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Deadly crashes caused by drivers on cellphones underreported

It should come as no surprise that cellphones are very distracting for drivers, and the consequences can be deadly. It’s also no surprise that the number of fatal cellphone-involved crashes are grossly underreported.

The National Safety Council analyzed data from 180 fatal crashes that took place between 2009 and 2011 that resulted in one or more deaths. Using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, the council determined that there was strong evidence that the driver had been using a cellphone at the time of the accident.

In 2011, the FARS identified only 52 percent of the crashes as cellphone-related. In 2010, it was 35 percent, and in 2009, only 8 percent.

Even in fatal accidents where the driver admitted using a cellphone, only half of the 2011 crashes were coded as involving a cellphone.

The database shows more than 32,000 traffic deaths overall in 2011, but only 385 are listed as involving cellphones. The NSC said that the underreporting makes it appear that distracted driving is less of a problem than it really is, making it more difficult to pass stricter laws.

The FARS database is the most reliable source of traffic crash statistics, but it is only as reliable as the people who report the accident information. The NSC found vast discrepancies in how states coded cellphone-related crashes. In Tennessee for example, there were 71 fatal crashes involving cellphones in 2010 and 93 in2011. However, New York, which has a significantly larger population, reported 10 such crashes in 2010 and one in 2011.

Other problems in getting an accurate number of cellphone-related accidents include driver reluctance to admit the behavior, lack of witnesses and the death of the driver.

Although other groups put the number significantly lower, the NSC estimates that 25 percent of all accidents involve cellphone use.

The exact number of accidents caused by cellphone use is unimportant. What’s important is that you pay attention to the road when behind the wheel. Don’t make a deadly mistake.