According to a new report from Bloomberg, the data and information that is out there about cell phone use while driving as well as car fatalities from cell phone use is very inaccurate, and that creates a huge problem.
The NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) keeps up with all of the vehicle related fatalities that occur each year in the United States. With that information from NHTSA, lawmakers, journalists, and activists focus their energy around it. Bloomberg’s report found that NHTSA’s data is not reporting correctly the cell phone usage causing fatalities.
Recent reports by NHTSA show that over the last few years, fatalities on the road increased by 14.4 percent even though it was on a decline for the last decade. Bloomberg points out that none of the normal causes seem to attribute for this increase. Neither speeding nor drinking related incidents have increased drastically, but cell phone usage has.
The National Safety Council did a recent study of 3 million people and found that the average driver uses their cell phone during 88 percent of driving. The NHTSA reported that only 448 phone related accidents occurred in 2015. That is a good example of how data collection can go wrong and have serious consequences.
The NHTSA collects its data on fatalities from individual states, which in turn, collect their data from a variety of local and regional sources, who all draw their information from police reports, which can vary wildly station by station. This lack of standardization can lead to inaccurate results. According to Bloomberg, “Only 11 states use reporting forms that contain a field for police to note mobile phone distraction, while 27 have a space to note distraction in general as a potential cause of the accident.” Add the fact that mobile phone use isn’t something that officers (or in the worst case, first responders) can physically test for at the scene, like intoxication, and you begin to get an idea of just how much we’re missing.
If we don’t know how often something like this happens, we will never raise the funds or demand to fix it. Cell phones are an ever present part of our reality, no one is trying to change or deny that. But if we are going to keep inventing new ways to distract ourselves we need to find a way to get a basic understanding of how all this tech impacts us behind the wheel.
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