New Study Shows Fatal Car Crashes Caused by Cell Phone Use Are Substantially Underreported

Hang up and drive.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the National Safety Council estimates 1 in 4 crashes involve cell-phone-distracted drivers. But that’s just an estimate; there isn’t enough data to back up the claim. That’s because distracted driving is substantially underreported, even though it presents one of the biggest threats to driver safety.

Distracted drivers and crashes.

Where’s the distracted driving data?

We know that distracted driving is a serious problem – we just don’t know exactly how serious. Here’s why:

• Many drivers won’t admit to using a phone while driving – and in serious or fatal accidents, that information is often unavailable.
• Cell phone records are difficult to obtain.
• Witness statements and memories aren’t always accurate.
• While a blood-alcohol test can tell whether a driver is intoxicated, no such test exists for cell phone use.

Driving distractions in the digital age

Talking on the phone while driving has been a problem for years, but as smartphones have become more mainstream, the problem has gotten worse. Drivers aren’t just talking on the phone anymore; they’re texting, typing an address into a GPS app, checking messages on their social networks or searching for restaurant reviews.

What’s that phone call worth?

A driving simulator study found that drivers using a cell phone had slower reaction times making them four times as likely to get into an accident – and with the average cost of damage after a crash close to $10,000, in addition to the risk of injury or death, no text message or phone call is worth it.

Average cost of damage.

How to avoid distracted driving

Whether you have a hard time ignoring your phone in the car, or are concerned that your teen might be texting while behind the wheel, there are ways to reduce the temptation. NSC asks drivers to pledge not to text while driving.

There are several smartphone apps to help. When enabled, some apps send preset text message replies when the car exceeds 25 mph. There are a lot of these “hang up and drive” apps available across all major smartphone platforms, and they’re a great way to reduce distraction for teen drivers and adults.

If an urgent phone call, text message or email comes in while you’re driving, you can still take it – just pull the car over first.

  • KEN B

    Do you have any data that shows whether the number of crashes involving cell phone users have been reduced in cities that have laws that prohibit driving while on a handheld cellphone?

    • Hi Ken,
      Thanks for the comment. There has been no definitive data yet showing the impact of cell phone laws on the reduction of crashes. Each law can vary based on jurisdiction. This makes it difficult to track the impact the cell phone laws may have. But it’s an area safety experts and lawmakers continue to discuss and study.