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Distracted driving fatalities underreported by NHTSA

Car accidents caused by drivers who were using cellphones are vastly underreported, according to a new report by the National Safety Council. The safety group says that underreporting car accidents caused by cellphone use downplays the dangers of using a cellphone behind the wheel and makes it more difficult for states to pass new laws to curb cellphone-related crashes.

The NSC analyzed fatal car accidents reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and found that only half of all fatal crashes that involved a driver using a cellphone were correctly reported by the NHTSA. Even when drivers admitted to using a cellphone, half of those cases weren't accurately recorded in the national database. 

The NSC said that they believe fatal car accidents caused by cellphone use is much higher than the NHTSA has reported. There are several factors that may be contributing to the underreporting, including drivers not admitting to cellphone use after a fatal crash and accident reports not being consistent among local and state police.

The NSC said that unless there is a witness informing police that a cellphone was used during the fatal car accident, police usually don't investigate to see if cellphone use contributed to the accident.

When police do investigate to see a cellphone was involved, it can be difficult as police are usually required to have a subpoena before they can review cellphone records. Because of these difficulties, many police officers do not contribute as many fatal car accidents to cellphone use as they should.

The NHTSA said that they are trying to work with state police agencies to improve the reporting and investigation process for car accidents involving distracted driving and cellphone use.

Source: Daily Camera, "Study says officials underreport distracted driving deaths," Joan Lowy, May 7, 2013

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