Let’s start with some facts about car accidents and smartphones in America:
- In the past two years, the number of pedestrians and cyclists struck and killed has increased by 22%
- In the past two years, the total number of FATAL car accidents has risen by 14%
- In the past two years, the number of Americans who use a smartphone for social media and photo sharing has jumped 10%. Eighty percent of Americans now use a smartphone.
- The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not track instances of cell phone use as a direct cause of a car accident. Alcohol use and speeding are measured and while both increased minimally, the uptick is not enough to explain the sudden jump in car accidents since 2015.
We are distracted by our smartphones and according to recent research published by Bloomberg, it’s the most plausible reason behind the recent spike in car accident deaths.
According to Bloomberg, an independent research group examined NHTSA’s data and found that only half of accidents that could be attributed to cell phone use were actually classified as such. Bloomberg tells of findings by a tech start up company that was tasked with tracking cell phone use for a client. It found that 88% of users were using their phone while driving. Which leads to quite an obvious observation: Are those responsible for car accidents deaths actually admitting to using their cell phone at the time of the accident? It’s doubtful. But are they even being questioned about their cell phone use by officers and investigators? Bloomberg is quick to point out that NHTSA’s car accident data comes directly from state crash reports and that most states do not mention cell phones as a cause or contributing factor to a car accident on their crash questionnaire forms.
Proving Cell Phone is the Cause of a Crash is A Tough Case to Make
Texting while driving is illegal in 47 states. Use of a handheld phone while driving is illegal in 15 states. Proving a driver was distracted by one is hard to prove. A court order is needed to obtain a defendant’s cell phone activity and many wireless providers are only able to provide basic information that shows when a call initiated and to whom, or that a text was sent. That being said, drinking or speeding are much easier factors to identify and pursue, and police and attorneys for injured victims are more likely to go after those as causes.
Most experts agree that until there is a way to prove that a driver was texting, on social media, or scrolling the internet at the moment of or just before a crash, little is likely to be done to dissuade drivers from becoming distracted by their smartphones. Ad campaigns are fleeting reminders of the horror that can come from shifting your eyes from the road.
However, there are instances in which a guilty driver will tell the truth to investigators and attorneys. In March of this year, a Texas truck driver admitted and apologized for using his cell phone during a car accident that killed 13 passengers in a church bus on a stretch of highway 75 miles outside San Antonio. The truck driver admitted to a witness that he had been texting at the time he caused the accident. The witness described following the truck and watching it cross the median several times before striking the bus. The driver survived without injuries.