Statistics likely vastly underestimate distracted driving fatalities

This article looks at why federal data on traffic fatalities vastly underestimates distracted driving deaths.

The latest traffic fatality figures released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) contained a surprising detail: while overall traffic fatalities increased by 5.6 percent in 2016, distracted driving deaths fell by 2.2 percent, according to USA Today. While a drop in distracted driving deaths would usually be cause for celebration, the dip may be due more to bad data than any actual decrease in distracted driving deaths. In fact, a number of studies have shown that federal statistics likely drastically underestimate the number of motor vehicle accidents caused by distracted driving.

What the statistics say

The NHTSA figures show that in 2016 there were 37,461 deaths due to motor vehicle accidents, which is a significant 5.6 percent increase from 2015's toll. It's also an especially steep increase from 2014's all-time low of 32,744 traffic fatalities. According to the NHTSA report, the main culprits behind the increase in fatalities were speeding (which was up four percent) and lack of seatbelt use (which was up 4.6 percent).

What was surprising, however, is that despite the seeming scourge of texting and driving on the roads, distracted driving deaths supposedly decreased by 2.2 percent in 2016, accounting for just 3,450 traffic deaths.

Why distracted driving is still to blame

However, these figures should be taken with a rather large grain of salt. That's because, as Bloomberg reports, federal data is notoriously bad at keeping track of distracted driving deaths. It is, for one, difficult to get drivers to admit that they were distracted prior to a crash. Furthermore, even when drivers do admit to being on their cellphones, the cause of the crash may officially be attributed to another factor, such as running a red light or veering into oncoming traffic, rather than distracted driving itself.

Within the NHTSA data itself there are suggestions that distracted driving is an underreported killer. For example, more than half of fatal crashes occurred in good driving conditions with no mechanical failures while drivers were going straight down the road, which suggests many crashed because they were distracted by something inside their cars. Furthermore, one study of 3 million drivers found that mobile phones are used in 88 percent of all motor vehicle trips, which suggests that distracted driving likely plays a much bigger role in motor vehicle accidents today than federal data otherwise suggests.

Personal injury law

For those who have been hurt in an accident, getting help is crucial. A motor vehicle accident can be a traumatic experience and it may lead to high emotional, physical, and financial tolls . A personal injury attorney can help accident victims understand what legal routes they may have available to them, including with helping them pursue financial compensation they may be eligible for.