Why federal data drastically underreports distracted driving

This article looks at why federal data on distracted driving is drastically underreporting the problem.

Distracted driving has become an epidemic, with drivers distracted by texting, social media, GPS, and in-car infotainment systems. Yet recently released federal data showed something startling: according to Bloomberg, that data claims that distracted driving deaths actually declined last year. However, instead of celebrating that news, many safety advocates are saying the data is simply wrong and drastically underreports just how extensive the problem of distracted driving has become. In fact, those critics contend that recent increases in fatal motor vehicle accidents can largely be attributed to the distracted driving problem getting worse, not better.

What's wrong with the data?

The 2016 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has yet to be fully analyzed, but it already claims to show a decrease in distracted driving deaths from 2015 to 2016. However, it's useful to take that conclusion with a large grain of salt since the NHTSA's data showed that there were just 448 deaths across the country attributable to mobile phone use while driving - or just 1.4 percent of all traffic deaths.

That almost certainly underreports the true extent of the problem for a number of reasons. For one, drunk driving deaths were 23 times higher according to NHTSA data despite numerous studies showing that drunk driving and using a phone behind the wheel are equally dangerous. Distracted driving is also much more prevalent, with one study suggesting that 88 percent of all road trips involve a driver using their mobile phone at least once.

Also, the NHTSA bases its data on the data it receives from individual states, and it seems that some states are doing a better job of reporting distracted driving than others. Tennessee, for example, has a detailed form for police to fill out after they attend to an accident that includes separate boxes for distracted driving in general and mobile phone use specifically as causes of the accident. That may be why Tennessee, a state with just two percent of the country's population, accounts for 19 percent of all phone-related deaths in the country according to NHTSA data.

Distracted driving is getting worse

The NHTSA figures also only take into account distracted driving by cell phone use, despite a growing body of evidence that there are many other types of distractions. In fact, as MarketWatch reports, a recent University of Utah/AAA study found that the most distracting activity during driving is not texting and driving, but rather programming navigation devices. Navigation devices are often exempted from distracted driving laws and many car manufacturers market them as safety features, despite a number of studies now showing that their use while driving is extremely dangerous.

Personal injury law

Distracted driving has helped make the roads and highways much more dangerous. Anybody who has been hurt in an accident should get in touch with a personal injury attorney right away. An attorney can help accident victims make sense of the legal options before them, including with helping them pursue claims for whatever financial compensation they may be entitled to.