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Is the scope of distracted driving crashes underestimated?

A fatal car accident can occur in many ways. While most in Florida may understand that drunk driving or breaking traffic laws can lead to a fatal accident, they may underestimate the problem of distracted driving, particularly when it comes to cell phone use.

After years of decreasing fatalities in motor vehicle accidents, traffic deaths in the United States shot up 14.4 percent. In fact, in 2016, over 100 individuals lost their lives daily due to motor vehicle accidents. These numbers have not been seen since 10-years ago.

Experts do not attribute this increase in fatalities to either miles driven, speeding or drunk driving, as these numbers have not gone up much in the past year. However, the use of smartphones while behind the wheel has significantly gone up. Between 2014 and 2016, the number of people who owned a smartphone went up from 75 percent to just over 80 percent.

Moreover, people are using their smartphones to do so much more than having a conversation. These days we can text, email, share photos and post on social media websites. These activities are more distracting than merely talking, as they are more involved activities than simply holding the phone to one's ear.

While the danger of using a smartphone while driving is understood, the scope of the problem is hard to quantify, because it is not easy to obtain the necessary information on this topic. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in 2015, merely 448 individuals died in accidents involving cell phones. This accounts for only 1.4 percent of traffic deaths.

The agency anticipates that this statistic has likely gone down in 2016. But, the National Safety Council reports that only around 50 percent of deadly accidents involving cell phone use were reported by the NHTSA. This means that there may have been significantly more distracted driving fatalities than the agency's statistics suggest.

Distracted driving, whether it is through cell phone use or other means, is a significant problem that can lead to serious, even fatal motor vehicle accidents. While the number of these accidents may be unreported, it is important to keep in mind that those who cause a car accident due to distracted driving need to be held accountable.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Distracted Driving Is More Deadly Than Data Shows: Special Report," Kyle Stock, Oct. 18, 2017

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