IIHS Estimates More Than 800 Traffic Deaths in 2017 Linked to Cellphone Manipulation

IIHS noted that a 2018 national survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 64 percent of respondents consider distracted driving a much bigger problem now than it was three years ago.

Manipulating a cellphone was a contributing factor in more than 800 crash deaths on U.S. roads during 2017 amid a marked increase in the percentage of drivers observed interacting with cellphones, according to new research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The estimate is based on the number of Virginia drivers observed in a 2018 IIHS roadside survey; 57 percent were more likely to be manipulating a cellphone than drivers in a 2014 survey. The percentage of drivers observed manipulating a phone rose from 2.3 percent in 2014 to 3.4 percent in 2018.

However, drivers were less likely to be seen simply holding a cellphone or talking on a hand-held phone than in the prior survey. The finding is consistent with research indicating that drivers are talking on hand-held phones less and fiddling with them more often than in recent years, according to IIHS.

IIHS noted that a 2018 national survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 64 percent of respondents consider distracted driving a much bigger problem now than it was three years ago.

"About 37,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2017, the most recent year of data available. Assuming the prevalence of phone manipulation nationwide rose as it did in Northern Virginia to 3.4 percent, and assuming, based on the latest research, that fatal crash risk is 66 percent higher when manipulating a phone, then more than 800 of the estimated crash deaths in 2017 could be attributed to phone manipulation," IIHS reported.

"The latest data suggest that drivers are using their phones in riskier ways," said David Kidd, who co-authored the study and is a senior research scientist with the Highway Loss Data Institute. "The observed shift in phone use is concerning because studies consistently link manipulating a cellphone while driving to increased crash risk."

"When people talk about distracted driving, most often cellphones are the focus, but drivers are distracted by other secondary behaviors more often than cellphones," he added. "Things as simple as drinking coffee or talking to your kids can take your attention away from the road."

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