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Is the prevalence of distracted driving being under-reported?

In 2011, more than 3,000 people were killed in crashes that distracted driving contributed to, while more than 350,000 people were injured.
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    December 18, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Distracted driving is an issue that is increasingly gaining public attention, thanks to research and safety campaigns that have emphasized its dangers. In St. Louis and other parts of Missouri, drivers under age 22 are banned from texting and driving, and many older drivers know that they should refrain from the behavior. Still, despite this, a recent study indicates that the troubling statistics about distracted driving may actually be under-representing the problem.

Distracted driving at a glance

The government website presents many saddening facts about distracted driving. In 2011, more than 3,000 people were killed in crashes that distracted driving contributed to, while more than 350,000 people were injured. Roughly one of ten teenage drivers involved in a deadly crash was distracted at the time.

Missouri is no exception to this national trend, either. The Missouri Department of Transportation website reports that distracted driving plays a role in an estimated four out of five crashes. Even though texting and driving carries a $200 fine for drivers 21 and under, the Missouri DOT states that half of teenagers still admit to texting and driving.

Alarming as these figures are, a National Safety Council study published earlier this year indicates that they might not reflect the full magnitude of the problem.

Study: cell phone use under-reported

As described by CBS, the study identified fatal crashes in which there was strong evidence of cell phone use at the time of the accident. The National Safety Council then reviewed how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded these accidents. Some study findings were:
- Roughly half of the accidents in which drivers actually admitted to using a cell phone were not categorized accordingly.
- Only half of the accidents identified for 2011 were reported as distracted driving crashes.
- Just over a third of the 2010 accidents were recorded as involving cell phones.
- A mere 8 percent of the 2009 accident records reflected cell phone use.

It's important to remember that cell phone use was likely, rather than proven, in many of the accidents reviewed. However, the fact that accidents in which cell phone use was admitted weren't always recorded appropriately indicates that distracted driving statistics may be inaccurate.

CBS notes a few reasons that under-reporting can happen. In fatal cases, there may not be witnesses. If the precise moment of an accident isn't known, cell phone records are not useful. Finally, if someone has caused an accident, authorities can issue a citation without delving into whether distracted driving occurred.

Still, as the National Safety Council points out, inaccurate statistics may lead the public to believe that distracted driving is less serious of a problem than it is. Many states ban texting for a subset of drivers, like Missouri does, and some ban handheld device use, but many state laws still leave room for bad habits.

It is important for drivers to appreciate the danger of distractions and do their best to limit them. Of course, this won't prevent other drivers from making poor choices, but it can reduce the likelihood of a driver being involved in an accident.

If the careless decisions of another driver have caused harm to you or a loved one, you should speak with an attorney about compensation that you may be able to seek.

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