We’re not talking about exploding batteries in certain smartphones. But you could be complicit in your own death—and the deaths of others—by using your phone while driving and causing a crash. We all know we shouldn’t use our phones while behind the wheel. Perhaps we assume that hands-free use isn’t risky. After all, hands-free mode would be illegal if it were dangerous—right?
While using your phone in hands-free mode is legal in all states unless you’re a teen or novice driver, it probably shouldn’t be, if we are to believe the numbers. New information has come to light indicating that many more traffic deaths are caused by people using phones while driving than the official numbers reflect.
What Do the Numbers Say?
Traffic deaths generally declined for decades through 2014. But for 2015 and 2016 combined, traffic fatalities in the U.S. spiked 14.4 percent over 2014. During 2015, 35,092 died in crashes that involved motor vehicles. Yet official numbers of fatalities caused by cell phone usage were pegged at only 448, or 1.4 percent of all traffic deaths. Many believe that deaths caused by cell phone usage are two, three, or more times higher than that percentage.
What Are the Reasons?
When it comes to the crashes, the reasons experts suspect that the real fatalities figure involving cell phones are much higher include:
- The fact that, in over half of 2015 accidents, drivers were going straight down a road, with no intersections, no crossing traffic, and no bad weather
- The drivers involved in accidents more frequently hit pedestrians, those on bicycles, and motorcyclists. In 2016, motorcyclist deaths were up 6.2 percent and pedestrian deaths rose 9 percent over 2015.
- A recent study by the National Safety Council (NSC) revealed that only about 50 percent of crashes with known cell phone usage were coded that way in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) databases. That means deaths involving cell phones are at least twice what the official number is.
Jennifer Smith, whose mother was killed in 2008 by a driver on their phone, founded Stopdistractions.org, a nonprofit lobbying and support group. In her opinion, the numbers are definitely higher. “Honestly, I think the real number of fatalities tied to cell phones is at least three times the federal figure. We’re all addicted and the scale of this is unheard of.”
What Are We to Do?
The forms that municipalities and states use to report to the NHTSA need to include cell phone usage specifically; most do not. Police must also be trained to look for smartphones as the cause of accidents. But that’s going to be tricky because, as Smith commented, “We don’t have a Breathalyzer for a phone.”
Jonathan Adkins, the executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), feels frustrated over the mounting deaths and what he thinks is a distinct underreporting of traffic fatalities linked to cell phone usage. Adkins faults the fact that many of us feel no shame at using our phones while we drive. “I use the cocktail party example. If you’re at a cocktail party and say, ‘I was so hammered the other day, and I got behind the wheel,’ people will be outraged. But if you say the same thing about using a cell phone, it won’t be a big deal. It is still acceptable, and that’s the problem.”
Maybe more of us will wise up so that traffic deaths once more will decline.
When life goes wrong, we fight for what’s right.
Have you been in an accident with a distracted driver who was using some form of social media on their phone or other distraction such as an infotainment system? The South Carolina vehicular accident lawyers at the Louthian Law Firm have represented injured South Carolinians in personal injury suits since 1959. With our firm on the case, you can rest assured that you’ll get the personalized attention you deserve. If you have been seriously injured or your loved one was hurt or killed in a vehicular accident in which the other party was at fault, South Carolina law entitles you to hold that party legally responsible for your medical expenses and vehicle repair bills, as well as any lost wages and other financial losses. You may also seek compensation for pain and suffering or loss of comfort, care and companionship of a loved one. The deadline for filing a claim is already running, so contact the Louthian Law Firm for help by calling us at 1-803-454-1200. If you prefer, you can fill out our online contact form.