NSC, Nationwide Say Cell Phone Crashes Far Under-Reported

Their report analyzed 180 fatal crashes from 2009 to 2011 where the evidence indicated a driver had used a cell phone. Only 52 percent of them in the latter year were coded that way, however.

The National Safety Council has released an analysis of national statistics on fatal motor vehicle crashes that indicates fatal crashes in which a driver's use of a cell phone was involved are significantly under-reported. The new report, "Crashes Involving Cell Phones: Challenges of Collecting and Reporting Reliable Crash Data," was funded in part by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. It reviewed 180 fatal crashes from 2009 to 2011 where evidence indicated driver cell phone use.

Only 52 percent of those in 2011 were coded in the national data as involving cell phone use.

"We believe the number of crashes involving cell phone use is much greater than what is being reported," said Janet Froetscher, president and CEO of the council. "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."

Even when drivers admitted their cell phone use during a fatal crash, the crash was not coded as such in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatal Analysis Reporting System about half of the time, according to the council's analysis. In addition, there are an unknown number of cases in which cell phone use involvement in crashes is impossible to determine, such as a driver reading an email or text message on a phone who dies in a crash without any witness.

There are large differences among the states, as well. Tennessee reported 93 fatal crashes in 2011 that involved cell phone use, but New York reported only one. Texas reported 40, but adjacent Louisiana reported none, according to the council's news release.

"The public should be aware that cell phone-involved fatal crashes are not accurately being reported," said Bill Windsor, associate vice president 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."

Based on risk and prevalence of cell phone use, as reported by research and NHTSA, the council estimates 25 percent of all crashes involve cell phone use.

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