Distracted driving from cell-phone use probably worse than we think

Everyone knows that it is dangerous to drive while distracted. A driver without his or her full attention on the road puts those in other cars, his or her own passengers, and him or herself at higher risk of crashing. While eating, putting on makeup, reading, talking to passengers and similar distractions have always diverted drivers' attention, the explosion of cell-phone use in our country - especially among younger, less experienced drivers - has raised driver distraction to a whole other level.

National Safety Council study

The Associated Press reported extensively in May 2013 on a recent study done by the nonprofit National Safety Council with financial support from the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. The NSC analyzed federal and state data and concluded that the number of motor-vehicle accidents involving drivers who were using their mobile phones at the time is "seriously underreported."

The federal agency that compiles national statistics about road fatalities and accidents is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which the study found had significantly underreported the involvement of cell phones in fatal crashes in the sampling studied.

The NHTSA gets its data from state law enforcement records. Police may rely on driver and witness observations and statements, but some may be afraid to report mobile phone use, may not remember accurately or, tragically, may have passed away.

The NSC also found a large disparity in numbers of cell-phone-involved accidents reported by states vis-à-vis their populations. For example, Tennessee reported many more accident fatalities with mobile-phone involvement than other, larger, more populous states, suggesting that criteria or investigation methods vary widely among the states.

What are the numbers?

The NHTSA reports that in 2011, 3,331 persons died in distracted-driver crashes and almost 400,000 were hurt in those accidents. Those are very sobering numbers, and if cell-phone involvement really is underreported, those numbers are actually much higher and more shocking.

District of Columbia

The District of Columbia has strict cell-phone controls for all drivers, who may neither use handheld phones to talk behind the wheel nor engage in texting while driving. Hands-free telephonic communication is allowed, except for bus drivers and younger drivers, who may not even use hands-free devices.

However, people don't always follow such laws and driver negligence from cell-phone use and other distractions will still happen.

Legal advice

Anyone in an accident involving a driver who may have been talking or texting on a mobile device at the time should discuss the situation with an experienced personal injury attorney. Legal counsel can aggressively investigate the incident to determine whether driver distraction or negligence may have been a factor, and advise the victim whether he or she has legal options like a personal injury lawsuit.