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Wisconsin Cell Phone Crashes May Be More Common Than We Think

When I look for statistics to back up an article that I’m writing, I often use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database. This publicly accessible database contains records for fatal crashes in the United States dating back to 1975. However, a recent distracted-driving study has found that many of these records are incomplete, and using FARS to estimate cell phone distracted-driving crashes could cause us to underestimate the problem of distracted driving.

The National Safety Council (NSC) and Nationwide Insurance reviewed police records for 180 fatal crashes from 2009 to 2011 where there was evidence that a driver was using a cell phone at the time of the crash.

Evidence of Cell Phone Use at the Time of a Fatal Accident

  • Driver admits to using a cell phone at the time of the crash
  • The caller or texter on the other end of the conversation reports cell phone use during the crash
  • A passenger reports the driver’s cell phone use
  • Police find evidence of cell phone use such as an unfinished message on the phone

When the researchers checked the FARS database, they found that despite the availability of evidence, many of these accidents were not coded as cell-phone-related crashes. In fact, only 8 percent of the crashes from 2009 were coded as involving cell phone use. It was 35 percent in 2010 and 52 percent in 2011. In half of the cases where cell phone use was not indicated in FARS, the driver had admitted to using his cell phone during the crash.

Reasons Why Cell Phone Use May Not Be Coded in FARS

  • The driver does not admit to cell phone use.
  • It is impossible to tell if the driver was using the phone. For example, the driver was alone in the car and reading a text at the time of the accident. The driver did not survive the crash.
  • States don’t report cell phone use by drivers.

Based on these findings, the National Safety Council estimates 25 percent of all motor vehicle crashes involve cell phone use.

April is distracted Driving Awareness Month in Wisconsin. Hupy and Abraham is offering a free “DNT TXT N DRV” bumper sticker to Wisconsin drivers. Simply click on the link to get your free sticker.

Jason F. Abraham
Managing Partner, Hupy and Abraham
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