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Are fatal distracted driving car accidents being under reported?

There were 32,000 fatalities in car accidents in 2011, caused by a variety of factors such as speeding, drunk driving, and distracted driving. Distracted driving fatalities are seen as imminently preventable, leading California and many other states to enact restrictions on cellphone use behind the wheel.

Recent statistics show a relatively low rate of traffic deaths associated with cellphone use, even though we know that using a cellphone from behind the wheel can be just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated.

Federal statistics indicate that during 2010 and 2011 only 22 fatal crashes in the nation's most populous state involved cellphone use. California has some of the nation's toughest laws when it comes to cellphone use behind the wheel, but it is highly unlikely that drivers are in such complete compliance that cellphone use is a factor in only a tiny fraction of overall incidents.

In fact, an examination of 180 fatal car accident cases over two years where police reports indicated a cellphone was a factor, only a fraction were coded in a way that registers them as caused by cellphone use in federal databases. To be more precise, out of the cases from 2011 involving a cellphone, only half were coded in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration database as such. For crashes that occurred in 2009, only 8 percent were coded to reflect that cellphone use was a factor.

Drivers who cause injuries or deaths in an accident when they are using their cellphones should be held responsible for that negligent behavior. As discussed above, it is a well-known and accepted fact at this point that using a phone behind the wheel is dangerous, but people choose to do it anyways. When this leads to the loss of a loved one, it is important for the family of the victim to seek justice from the person at fault.

Source: CBS News, "Study: Distracted driving deaths underreported" Associated Press, May 7, 2013

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