Latest Distracted Driving News Show Bumps in the Road

We’ve tried to scare you straight, talked about studies, offered bad examples to learn from, given you a heads up on penalties, and reviewed a court case.

Needless to say, we’ve spent our fair share of time on distracted driving. The problem is: it may not be enough.

Several pieces of recent news show that the nation still has a long way to go when it comes to fighting one of the deadliest problems on today’s roadways.

Study: Cell Phone Crash Deaths ‘Vastly Underreported’

Anyone looking at reports or studies based on distraction-related crash reports might just be scratching the surface of the scope of the problem, according to a study conducted through a partnership between the National Safety Council (NSC) and Nationwide Insurance.

A recent analysis of 180 fatal crashes between 2009 and 2011 show that, although follow-up interviews with friends and family show “apparent cell phone use” linked to the crash, only about half were reported as cell phone-involved crashes to national networks like the Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) that contains data used for studies.

Janet Froetscher, NSC’s president and CEO, said that simple factors could encourage underreporting, like a driver not admitting use of a cell phone and errors in reports at the scene of a crash.

Other mishaps in reporting may be due to the simple nature of fatal crashes like “a driver reading an email or text message on a phone who dies in a crash without any witnesses,” the NSC said.

What’s more befuddling is how to figure out the number of fatal crashes linked to use of a cell phone that go unreported. But make no mistake, according to the report, actual numbers on cell phone-involved fatal crashes are likely more than they appear to be.

“There is strong evidence to support that under-reporting of driver cell phone use in crashes is resulting in a substantial underestimation of the magnitude of this public safety threat,” the report stated.

The report also offered two anecdotal examples to support its case:
–Michigan driver and 17-year-old Kelsey Raffaele was killed in a crash in January 2010. According to her parents, Kelsey was talking on the phone with a friend who told them that her last words on the phone were “I’m going to crash.” The crash report did not include cell phone use.
–Florida resident and 19-year-old Chelsey Murphy was killed in May 2010 when a car struck her. The driver, a teen, was talking on his cell phone; the person on the other end heard “the impact through the phone.” The crash report did not include cell phone use.

Report: Few Tickets from Texting Bans

A USA Today study of state police agencies show that the statewide texting bans that exist in 39 states (with Florida likely the next to join them) have yielded a relatively meager amount of tickets.

In Tennessee, the average is about 24 citations per month. In Louisiana, the average is about 18 a month. Some state police agencies averaged fewer than one ticket a day, according to the study.

The study left out city and county police departments and agencies, but even some of the state police entities that were surveyed didn’t have figures on texting-related tickets to provide, including the Arkansas State Police, which “does not have a means to track the number of violator citations for this particular charge,” according to the report.

USA Today’s analysis shows that, even though texting bans are now more common than not, enforcing them is still new area for police.

The California Office of Traffic Safety told Online Auto Insurance News that texting is one of the hardest things for a cop to spot, because it’s “done below the dashboard, so the officer has to actually see them texting and doing it for a period of time.”

More light might be shed on the issue, with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety compiling a “major study” into the number of texting tickets are issued every year nationwide.

But until then, CEO Peter Kissinger told USA Today, “no one seems to really know” how often police are writing texting citations.

He called the lack of enforcement a “general perception.”

Research Shows Parent Drivers Very Distracted, Even with Kids in the Car

Even though it’s the young drivers that get a lot of the bad press when it comes to distracted driving, recent research from the University of Michigan shows how prominent the problem is for parents too.

And the problem is pretty bad.

Of the 600 parents surveyed for the study, nearly 90 percent said they engaged in at least one “technology-based distraction” behind the wheel with a preteen child in the car, with most saying that they engaged in at least four separate distractions.

The results show that issues with distracted driving go beyond teen drivers.

“Parents are frequently distracted while driving their 1- to 12-year-old children, and these distracted drivers were more likely to have been in a crash,” Michelle Macy, the study’s lead author, said in a statement.

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