Road safety experts in Florida and around the country have long claimed that driver distraction is an underreported problem. Distraction does not provide accident investigators with any telltale clues, and few motorists are willing to admit that they were using their cellphones when they crashed. Data released recently by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adds weight to this argument. According to the NHTSA, less than 1% of the almost 43,000 people who died on the nation’s roads in 2021 lost their lives in accidents involving a driver who was using a cellphone at the time.
Experts believe that the NHTSA data is misleading because it is based on information gathered by police at motor vehicle accident scenes. This means that distraction is only cited as the cause or one of the causes of an accident when a police officer specifically mentions it in an official report. This rarely happens unless a driver tells a police officer that they were distracted by their cellphone or something else.
The NHTSA data contradicts the results of driver surveys. When the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety polled American motorists in 2022, one in five of them admitted to routinely using their cellphones to read emails, watch videos or play games while behind the wheel. Wireless service providers compile a great deal of data about cellphone use, but police departments rarely obtain this information unless a criminal case is being prepared because of the costs involved.
Road deaths are soaring
More accurate information about driver distraction is needed because road deaths are soaring despite advances in automobile safety systems and improvements in road design. Distraction is a serious problem because a vehicle traveling at highway speeds covers 100 yards in the amount of time it takes to read a text message. If road safety is to be improved, accident investigators must do more to determine whether or not distraction played a role.