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Cellphone Use Is a Growing Road Safety Problem

Your smartphone knows what you say, where you go and what you search for on the internet, and the data it gathers can also reveal whether or not you make calls, send text messages or watch videos while behind the wheel. Road safety experts believe that distraction from cellphone use is one of the leading causes of traffic accidents in the United States, but government crash data tells a very different story.

NHTSA Accident Data

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System uses data gathered by law enforcement agencies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to compile motor vehicle accident reports. The government road safety watchdog’s latest Summary of Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes report reveals that traffic accidents around the country claimed 42,939 lives and caused 2,497,657 injuries in 2021, but most experts believe the data the report is based on is far from complete. Experts are dubious because the NHTSA report suggests that cellphone use was only a contributory factor in about 1% of the fatal accidents and 8% of the nonfatal accidents that took place in 2021. This raises questions because smartphones have become ubiquitous in recent years. A motorist traveling at highway speeds covers a distance equal to the length of a football field every five seconds. When motorists look at cellphone screens instead of the road ahead, they are effectively driving with their eyes closed.

Police Accident Reports

Experts believe the NHTSA data underreports cellphone use because of the way car accidents are investigated by law enforcement. Police officers are trained to notice the signs of intoxication, but distracted driving does not leave any telltale clues behind. Few drivers are eager to admit that they crashed because they were distracted and not paying attention, so few police accident reports cite cellphone use as a contributing factor. Law enforcement could obtain cellphone records from wireless service providers, but this does not happen very often. Police departments can only gain access to this information if they provide wireless service providers with subpoenas, which is a time-consuming and expensive process. As a result, cellphone records are rarely obtained during an accident investigation unless a criminal case is being prepared against one or more of the motorists involved. When questioned about the lack of cellphone data in official government reports, a NHTSA representative said the agency was aware of “significant underreporting” and “actively engaged” in exploring ways to compile more accurate information.

Driver Surveys

Drivers tend to be far more candid with survey takers than they are with police officers, and the responses they give suggest that cellphone use is a far more serious road safety issue than NHTSA accident reports suggest. When the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety surveyed American drivers in 2022, more than one in five of the respondents admitted to using their smartphones to read email, watch videos, browse social media posts or play games on most of their journeys.

Legal Help for Accident Victims

If you or somebody you care about is injured in a motor vehicle accident, an Allentown personal injury lawyer may conduct a more thorough investigation than the police officers dispatched to the scene. An attorney could obtain a subpoena to access the at-fault driver’s cellphone records if distraction may have played a role, and they might have the vehicle they were driving inspected for signs of lax maintenance or botched repairs. All motorists are expected to do everything that they reasonably can to prevent accidents and injuries, and they may be ordered to pay civil damages if they fail to meet this duty. Motor vehicle accident victims often face great financial stress caused by medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses and wages lost because their injuries prevent them from working. If you have suffered harm caused by another person's negligent actions, an Allentown personal injury lawyer could pursue civil remedies on your behalf. To learn more about your legal options, you can reach Metzger & Kleiner by calling our Lehigh Valley office at (610) 435-7400 or our Philadelphia office at (215) 567-6616. You can also use our online form to schedule a consultation.

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