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Why Underreported Cell Phone Accidents Should Matter to You

If you’re involved in an accident in North Carolina, the reporting process goes something like this:

  1. Your accident occurs.
  2. The police arrive and determine what caused the accident.
  3. Their findings are compiled into a report.
  4. That report is entered into regional and national databases.
  5. Those databases generate statistics on accident causes each year.

These statistics then influence national prevention priorities, funding decisions, media attention, legislation, and even vehicle and roadway engineering.

Close-up of a person using cellphone to report road accidentSo, in the end, your accident has a direct impact on where funding, attention and legislation is directed.

But what if the real cause of your accident wasn’t reported? And what if 50% of accidents weren’t interpreted properly?

Unfortunately, according to a report by the National Safety Council (NSC), that may be the case.

The NSC study:

For their study, the NSC identified 180 fatal crashes from 2009-2011 that were positively connected to cell phone use. Cell phone use was verified via a passenger in the car, someone who had been on the other end of the phone, an investigation or court documents (such as wireless records).

Then they cross-referenced these accidents with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). Here’s what they found:

Nearly half of cell phone accident cases were unreported in 2011


This chart illustrates that, among the accidents considered in the study, nearly half of cell phone accident cases were unreported in 2011. And in 2010 and 2009, the numbers were much worse.

Agreement between crash reports with checkbox or numerical codes and FARS
Of course, the best indication of cell phone use is when the driver admits it. This study identified 57 cases (out of their original 180) where the driver openly admitted to using a cell phone at the time of the accident.

As this chart illustrates, even out of those cases, the cell phone usage was only included in the report 50% of the time or less.

Chart 3: Agreement between crash reports with checkbox or numerical codes and FARS
When narrowed down to accidents where the police report contained a specific field for cell phone use, the statistics did somewhat improve, but there is still a significant gap.

“Cell phone use” defined

For the purpose of the study, the NSC defined “cell phone use” as any behaviors where drivers were actively engaged with their cell phone at the time of the crash.

These included behaviors such as: talking; typing or reading text or email; dialing phone numbers; using music, navigation or other apps; looking at phone; and reaching for the phone if it was ringing. A cell phone simply being in the car did not qualify the accident for the study.

What that means in NC:

The study also broke down their data by state for 2011 and 2010. In both instances, North Carolina ranked well below average for reporting cell phone use as a factor in car accidents.

Only .4% of cases in NC identified cell phone use as a factor in fatal crashes in both 2011 and 2010 – meaning our state may be devoting legislation, funding and attention to other, “more important” issues without knowing the real facts.

If you’ve been injured in an accident:

Texting and driving, or any cell phone usage while driving, can have devastating consequences. If you’ve been hurt by someone who was distracted behind the wheel, the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin may be able to help.

Give us a call for a free case evaluation today – 1-866-900-7078. We’ve represented thousands of North Carolinians who’ve been injured in a car accident and we may be able to help you.