The Edmond Sun

May 8, 2013

Study: Cell phone deaths are vastly under reported

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Only 52 percent of fatal crashes involving cell phone use were properly coded in national data, according to a recent analysis.

Tuesday, the National Safety Council released findings from a recent analysis of national statistics on fatal motor vehicle crashes in a report funded in part by the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company.

The report reviewed 180 fatal crashes from 2009 to 2011, where evidence indicated driver cell phone use. Of these fatal crashes, in 2011 only 52 percent were coded in the national data as involving cell phone use.

Even when drivers admitted cell phone use during a fatal crash, the council’s analysis found that in about one-half of these cases, the crash was not coded in federal data in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatal Analysis Reporting System.

In addition, there are an unknown number of cases in which cell phone use involvement in crashes is impossible to determine. One example would be a driver reading an email or text message on a phone who dies in a crash without any witnesses.

National Safety Council President Janet Froetscher said many factors including drivers not admitting cell phone use to a lack of consistency in crash reports being used to collect data at the scene make it challenging to determine an accurate number.

“We believe the number of crashes involving cell phone use is much greater than what is being reported,” Froetscher said.

As of May 7, 40 states have banned text messaging by all drivers, but Oklahoma is not one of them despite public support for a ban, AAA Oklahoma spokesman Chuck Mai said.

Mai, sounding exasperated over the lack of progress on the issue in the state Legislature, said seven related bills were filed for the current session; none of them made it more than halfway through the process due to a few influential lawmakers.

Oklahoma has a teen driver ban on cell phones, a comprehensive distracted driving law, relevant data collection, state pre-emption on cell phones and a school bus driver ban on cell phones, according to Mai’s organization.

Oklahoma also prohibits learner’s permit and intermediate license holders from using a handheld electronic device while driving. Officers are allowed to issue a citation for not devoting full-time attention to driving if the officer sees driving in such a manner that poses a danger to other persons on the roadway or involved in an accident.

But legislation banning all motorists from texting while driving was killed this session.

Mai said distracted driving is any activity that diverts a person’s attention away from the task of driving and includes texting, using a cell phone, eating and drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, reading, using a navigation system, adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player.

In April 2012, Edmond Police Officer James Hamm told The Edmond Sun based on his experience he is seeing a distracted driving epidemic.  

Last year, highway fatalities increased for the first time in seven years, according to the National Safety Council. Based on risk and prevalence of cell phone use, as reported by research and federal data, the National Safety Council estimates 25 percent of all crashes involve cell phone use. | 341-2121, ext. 108