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Study finds cellphone-related car accidents underreported

Car accidents caused by distracted drivers using cell phones are underreported in the U.S., according to the National Safety Council. Underreporting car accidents caused by cell phone use downplays the dangers of distracted driving and can deter safety efforts aimed at reducing distracted driving accidents.

The NSC studied 180 fatal car accidents that happened during 2009 and 2011 where suspected cellphone use contributed to the accident. They reported that in 2011, only half of fatal crashes were reported as involving cellphone use despite the fact that all the crashes had evidence of cellphone use playing a role in the accident.

The study also found that when drivers admitted to law enforcement that they were using a cellphone during a car accident that resulted in a fatality, only half of those cases were recorded in the national database that tracks fatal car accidents caused by drivers using cellphones.

Researchers said that cellphone use plays a much larger role in fatal car accidents than previously reported. They said that accurate reporting is difficult because not all drivers admit to using a cellphone after an accident. The NSC said that if the driver or witness notifies police that a cellphone was used, police do not usually investigate to make sure drivers are telling them the truth. This is because it is difficult for police to track if a cellphone was used by a driver because most need a subpoena to obtain cellphone records during a car accident investigation.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration said that they are working with states and law enforcement officials to improve the reporting process for car accidents that involve distracted driving. However, the NSC says that even if the reporting process is improved, car accidents caused by cellphone use will still be underreported because they rely heavily on drivers admitting they were using their cellphone.

To get around this issue, the NSC wants the government to estimate cellphone-related car accidents just like they currently estimate drunk driving crashes in the U.S. to really show how dangerous the behavior is and how tragic the accidents can be.

Source: Asbury Park Press, "Study: Distracted driving deaths underreported," Joan Lowy, May 7, 2013

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