Trucks at Work

Crashes due to cell-phone use: worse than thought?

A new study released by the National Safety Council (NSC) this week claims that the number of fatal vehicle crashes caused by driver distraction due to cell-phone usage could be much higher than many think – largely due to “coding errors” on the part of regulators.

For example: Even when drivers admitted cell-phone use during a fatal crash, NSC’s analysis found that in almost half of such cases, the crash wasn’t coded in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatal Analysis Reporting System(FARS)  to reflect the distractive usage of such devices.

Furthermore, in NSC’s report – entitled Crashes Involving Cell Phones: Challenges of Collecting and Reporting Reliable Crash Data and funded in part by the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company – after reviewing 180 fatal crashes between 2009 to 2011, where evidence indicated driver cell phone usage, only 52% in 2011 were coded in the FARS database to reflect that.

The report also brings up large differences in fatal crashes tied to cell phone distraction reported by states, stressed Janet Froetscher, the NSC’s president and CEO.

For instance, in 2011, Tennessee reported 93 fatal crashes toed to cell phone use while driving, yet New York – a state with a much larger population – reported only one. Similarly, Texas reported 40, while neighboring state Louisiana reported zero.

"We believe the number of crashes involving cell phone use is much greater than what is being reported," Froetscher said in a statement. "Many factors, from drivers not admitting cell phone 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."

Indeed, as indicated by its own research and NHTSA data, NSC estimates 25% of all crashes – not just fatal ones – involve cell phone usage by drivers while operating vehicles.

"The public should be aware that cell phone-involved fatal crashes are not accurately being reported," added Bill Windsor, associate VP of consumer safety at Nationwide. "These statistics influence national prevention priorities, funding decisions, media attention, legislation and policy, even vehicle and roadway engineering. 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."

Something for the trucking community to ponder, as higher numbers of distracted motorists operating on U.S. roadways only increases the risks to the freight-hauling business.

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