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Smartphones silent cause of traffic deaths

Smartphone technology is very distracting for motorists. Researchers, however, argue that the relationship between smartphones and car accidents was underreported.

U.S traffic deaths grew by 14.4 percent over the last two years and occurred at a rate of 100 per day in 2016. Speeding, drunk driving and driving distances have increased but not at much greater rates than usual. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, however, found that 448 fatalities or only 1.4 percent of all traffic deaths were attributed to mobile phones in 2015. Preliminary figures for 2016 show a decline in deaths related to these devices.

Nonetheless, the number of people in this country who own a smartphone grew from 75 to 81 percent. People also use these devices for sharing photos, following news and other social media and other tasks that take more attention than speaking over the phone.

The largest increase in deaths involved bicyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians. In 2015, 5,987 pedestrians were killed in crashes, which was almost 1,100 more than those reported in 2014. These individuals are easier to miss than a truck or other car when driving distracted, especially if a motorist is glancing up from their smartphone.

One expert said that deaths attributed to smartphone use is three times greater than the NHTSA's figures. The National Safety Council reported that only half of deadly accidents tied to mobile phone usage were reported in the NHTSA's databases. The NHTSA receives data from local police who often fail to consider mobile phone use as a cause of an accident. Only 11 states use accident reporting forms that specify mobile phone use as a cause, while many forms just cite general distractions.

Tennessee uses comprehensive reporting forms which require police to cite mobile phone usage. Therefore, Tennessee suffered 84 of the 448 accidents reported to the NHTSA. A state with only two percent of the nation's population was held responsible for 19 percent of phone-related motorist deaths.

Obtaining mobile phone records normally requires a court order and may not show activity besides the general sending a call or text. Prosecutors may not pursue distracted driving offenses if police have evidence of speeding, or alcohol or drug impairment.

If you have been injured in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, you may wish to contact an attorney to discuss your case. An attorney can help victims pursue a lawsuit in order to seek compensation from a negligent or distracted driver.

Source: Bloomberg, "Smartphones Are Killing Americans, But Nobody's Counting," Kyle Stock, Lance Lambert, and David Ingold, Oct. 17, 2017

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