According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, some 80% of accidents are caused by distracted driving, and one of the most distracting activities drivers engage in is talking or texting on a cell phone.
Despite these astonishing numbers, up to half of the fatalities caused by distracted driving are not reported as such.
The NHTSA fears that if police are not trained to pursue and report the possibility of distracted driving being a factor in fatality crashes, it will be much more difficult to pass legislation to prevent drivers from using their cell phones on the road.
Public behavior only changes when people are made aware of the seriousness of the issue. There are a number of ways to do so: traffic laws may change, for example, as they were in the case of seat belt usage, or a public awareness campaign may be conducted to convince people to change their behavior for their own wellbeing.
However, it is difficult to convince state or federal legislators to make such laws if they see no real reason to do so, and it is extremely hard to get funding for public awareness campaigns if distracted driving is not seen as a serious issue.
If the number of fatalities were accurately reported, it would be much easier to convince legislators and the public that distracted driving is a serious issue that merits attention and action.
Where Current Reporting Falls Short
Different states have different standards for investigating whether distracted driving was a factor in an accident.
Tennessee reports the highest percentage of its driving-related fatalities, but California reported only a handful, despite having a population over six times that of Tennessee and far more urban areas where traffic accidents are common and cell phone usage is prevalent.
In states where police are not trained to investigate the possibility of cell phone use during an accident, distracted driving is generally only reported as a cause if the driver, a passenger, or a witness tells the police a cell phone was being used.
For obvious reasons, in fatal accidents these reports are rarely made: the driver and passenger are often unable to report any such thing, and it is not common for witnesses to a fatal accident to be close enough to see the driver using a cell phone.
The Legal Complication
Even in instances where police may suspect that cell phone use was a factor in the accident (if the investigating officer sees a cell phone on the floor of the driver’s seat, for example), the current laws make it very difficult for them to confirm their hunch.
In most cases, police are required to get a subpoena to see the driver’s cell phone records, which is an enormous hassle to go through, especially when discovering that cell phone use was a factor rarely changes anything for the victims of the accident.
Police must also prove that the driver was using their cell phone at the precise moment of the crash, which is difficult to do: the precise time of the crash is not always known, and if the driver was merely looking at their phone while driving, there is no record of that usage and no way of proving it.
It’s simply not worth the risk of using your cell phone – even for a moment – while driving. The distraction of a cell phone is far greater than you likely realize, and it makes you much more likely to be in an accident.
If you need to use the cell phone right away, pull over to the side of the road; if you’re merely curious, wait until you arrive at your destination.
If you’re ever in an accident and you suspect the other driver was using their cell phone at the time, be sure to report your suspicion to the police. If you’re having trouble convincing the police officer of the other driver’s being at fault because of distracted driving, give us a call: we can help.