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Distracted driving crashes may be higher than federal data show

Distracted driving may be a more serious problem than the statistics suggest. A safety group recently analyzed state and federal fatal car accident data, and found that fatal accidents in which drivers were on the phone have been seriously underreported. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTSA) says that it's working with states to get better data, but that accurate information about distracted driver accidents is difficult to obtain.

The safety group, the National Safety Council, reviewed 180 fatal accidents from 2009 to 2011 that had evidence the driver had been using a cellphone. It found that 8 percent of 2009 crashes in the NHTSA's accident database were marked as involving cellphones. In 2010, 35 percent of the crashes studied were marked as involving cell phones, and about half of the 2011 crashes studied were marked as involving cell phones.


New York reported one fatal cell-phone involved crash in 2011 and 10 in 2010.

The issue is more important than mere record keeping. Many people assume that federal statistics are accurate, and lawmakers make decisions about policies based on NHTSA statistics. When one woman began lobbying lawmakers in her state for more restrictions on cellphone use after her daughter died in a car accident, some legislators told her that federal data showed that distracted driving was not that large of a problem.

The NHTSA and the safety council say that data on distracted driving can be difficult to obtain because it relies on drivers, who may not wish to report that they had been on a phone. As a result, the National Safety Council is urging the NHTSA to develop estimates of cellphone-related car accidents, similar to estimates of crashes involving drunk drivers.

Source: CBS News, "Study: Distracted driving deaths underreported," May 7, 2013

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