Distracted Driving Underreported, According to National Safety Council Study

As we move through this holiday weekend here is a sobering thought about Oregon distracted driving: at any given moment during daylight hours nine percent of all drivers on the road nationwide are using cellphones, according to the National Safety Council.

The Council has just released its annual analysis of driving and cellphone usage and while the figures are for 2011 – the latest year for which full data sets are available – the numbers can be chilling to read. For example: a driver using a cellphone – even with a hands-free device as required by law here in Oregon and elsewhere – is four times more likely to be involved in a crash. More than one-in-five of all “fatal, injury and property-damage only crashes are likely attributable to talking on cellphones.” That added up to 1.1 million traffic crashes, according to the Council’s analysis.

The Council survey draws together data from a number of government, academic and non-profit sources. Two sections of the report stand out as particularly striking. First, its conclusion that using a hand-free device such as a headset, or the increasingly popular Bluetooth speakerphones built into many newer cars, does not lower the risk of a distracted driving crash nearly as much as one might think. Second, that the distracted driving problem is more widespread than originally thought because cellphone-related crash data is under reported almost everywhere in the country.

“In jurisdictions where police attempt to collect this data, they must rely almost entirely on driver self-reports or witness reports of cell phone use at the time of the crash, resulting in significant under reporting,” the Council declares at the top of the report’s first page.

In a country where there are more than 5.3 million car crashes each year and well over 30,000 deaths this report is a reminder of the facts about distracted driving about which I have written so often and which, in many respects, our society seems determined to ignore. As a Portland distracted driving attorney I am pleased that I am often able to help the victims of Oregon and Washington distracted driving obtain the justice they and their families deserve, but I am also all too aware of the factors that make this such a problem across America. Looking at the cases that come through my office I cannot help but wonder when people will realize that driving safely is not only good for them, but good for everyone else on and off the road.

National Safety Council: Annual Estimate of Cellphone Crashes 2011