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Fatal Crashes Due To Cellphone Use

Fatal Crashes Misrepresented When it Comes to Cellphones

The number of fatal crashes in regards to motor vehicles caused by cellphone use are vastly under-reported, according to a study released this week by the National Safety Council.

That was the finding of a recent analysis of national statistics on fatal motor vehicle crashes, part of a report entitled, “Crashes Involving Cell Phones: Challenges of Collecting and Reporting Reliable Crash Data.”

Based on risk and prevalence of cellphone use, as reported by research and NHTSA, the Council estimates that 25 percent of all crashes involve cellphone use. That may be a factor why in 2012 highway fatalities increased for the first time in seven years.

The report from the Itasca, Ill., advocacy group reviewed 180 fatal crashes from 2009 to 2011 where evidence indicated driver cellphone use. Of those fatal crashes, in 2011 only 52 percent were coded in the national data as involving cell phone use.

“We believe the number of crashes involving cellphone use is much greater than what is being reported,” National Safety President and CEO Janet Froetscher said in a statement. “Many factors, from drivers not admitting cellphone use, to a lack of consistency in crash reports being used to collect data at the scene, make it very challenging to determine an accurate number.”

Even when drivers admitted cellphone use during a fatal crash, the Council’s analysis found that in about one-half of these cases, the crash was not coded in federal data (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatal Analysis Reporting System).

There were also an unknown number of cases in which cellphone use involvement in crashes is impossible to determine, according to the Council. One example of that would be when a driver reading an email or text message dies in a crash without any witnesses.

The report also notes the large differences in cellphone-distraction fatal crashes reported by different states. For instance, in 2011 Tennessee reported 93 fatal crashes that involved cellphone use, but New York, a state with a much larger population, reported only one. Texas reported 40, but its neighboring state Louisiana reported none, the Council pointed out.

“The public should be aware that cellphone-involved fatal crashes are not accurately being reported,” said Bill Windsor, associate vice president of consumer safety at Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., which partially funded the analysis.

“These statistics influence national prevention priorities, funding decisions, media attention, legislation and policy, even vehicle and roadway engineering,” he said. “There are wide-ranging, negative ramifications to safety if a fatal crash factor is substantially under-reported, as appears to be the case of cell phone use in crashes.”

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