Are We Underestimating the Link Between Smartphones and Vehicle Wrecks?

by Terry Bryant

The National Safety Council (NSC) reports that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year. Around 300,000 injuries occur annually from accidents caused by texting while driving; 1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving.

  • The Council also notes that texting while driving is 6 times more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk.
  • Answering a text takes away your attention for about five seconds. If you are traveling at 55 mph, that’s enough time to travel the length of a football field.
  • Texting while driving causes a 400% increase in time spent with eyes off the road.
  • Of all cell phone related tasks, texting is by far the most dangerous activity.
  • 94% of drivers support a ban on texting while driving.
  • 74% of drivers support a ban on any hand-held cell phone use when driving (yet ironically, many drivers obviously still use their smartphones).

A variety of reasons explain why our mobile devices are far deadlier than many of us, including safety researchers, believe. In more than half of the fatal crashes in 2015, motorists were driving straight down the road, with no obstacles or apparent diversions before them. There was no crossing traffic; the weather and visibility were good; and there weren’t any other “distractions.” In spite of all those favorable conditions, however, drivers still kept plowing into other things: vehicles, telephone poles, the sides of buildings, pedestrians and cyclists on the side of the road or the sidewalk. So it’s small wonder that traffic fatalities involving motorcyclists (up 6.2%) and pedestrians (up 9%) rose significantly as smartphones found their way into the hands of just about every driver in the U.S.

As we’ve already shared, the jump in fatalities has been largely among bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians, all of which are easier to miss from the driver’s seat than a 4,000-pound SUV – especially if a driver is glancing up from that small screen instead of paying attention to the task at hand…DRIVING!

Other portions of the NSC study tell us that only about half of fatal crashes tied to known mobile phone use were coded that way in National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) databases. So in truth, according to the NSC, NHTSA’s figures for mobile device distraction-related injuries and deaths are already too low before the counting even starts.

Perhaps more significant may be the findings of Zendrive Inc., a San Francisco firm which evaluates smartphone data to help insurers of commercial vehicle fleets assess safety risks. In its study of 3 million drivers, Zendrive found they used a mobile phone during 88% of their trips. The company admits the true percentage maybe higher, because instances when phones were mounted in a fixed position were not captured in the study. This so-called hands-free technology is also considered to be risky, at best.

The government, though slow, is awakening to the problem. As of November 2017, of the 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico, 41 legally forbid all drivers from texting on their phones. But we still have a way to go before other behind-the-wheel distractions, like digital navigation and unbridled use of infotainment screens, are addressed legislatively.

If you are a victim of a traffic accident caused by a distracted driver, contact Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law by filling out our online contact form or give us a call: toll-free 1 (800) 444-5000.