THURSDAY, May 9 (HealthDay News) -- The number of fatal crashes
involving drivers distracted by cellphones is vastly under-reported
in the United States, according to a new study.
National Safety Council researchers looked at 180 fatal crashes
nationwide from 2009 to 2011 where evidence indicated driver
cellphone use. Of the crashes in 2011, only 52 percent were labeled
as cellphone-related in federal government data.
"We believe the number of crashes involving cellphone use is
much greater than what is being reported," Janet Froetscher,
president and CEO of the National Safety Council, said in a council
news release. "Many factors -- from drivers not admitting cellphone
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 in cases where drivers admitted cellphone use before a
fatal crash, only about half were entered as cellphone-related in
the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatal
Analysis Reporting System.
The study also noted that there are an unknown number of cases
in which the use of cellphones in fatal crashes is impossible to
determine. An example would be a driver reading an email or text
message who dies in a crash without any witnesses.
There were large differences in cellphone-related fatal crashes
reported by states. For example, Tennessee reported 93 fatal
crashes involving cellphone use in 2011 while New York reported
only one, despite its much larger population. In the same year,
Texas reported 40 such cases, while neighboring Louisiana reported
In 2012, U.S. traffic deaths increased for the first time in
seven years. Based on available data, the National Safety Council
estimates that 25 percent of all crashes involved cellphone
"The public should be aware that cellphone-involved fatal
crashes are not accurately being reported," Bill Windsor, associate
vice president of consumer safety at Nationwide Mutual Insurance
Company, said in the news release. The company partly funded the
"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 cellphone use in
crashes," Windsor said.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has more