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Experts believe smartphones linked to more traffic deaths

West Virginia motorists might be surprised to hear that distracted driving deaths decreased in 2016 from the previous year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, safety advocates believe that distracting driving fatalities are actually underreported and increasing.

The reason for the suspicion is found in various crash data. For example, the NHTSA reports that overall traffic fatalities have risen by a total of 14.4 percent over the past two years. Meanwhile, the number of people using their smartphones while behind the wheel have also increased. A study by Zendrive Inc. found that at least 88 percent of drivers admit to using their phones while on trips. Further, NHTSA statistics show that traffic fatalities have increased the most on a percentage basis among pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists in recent years. Pedestrian deaths alone increased by 22 percent between 2014 and 2016. Finally, more than half of all fatal accidents in 2015 involved vehicles that were traveling straight down the road and simply hit something or someone.

Traffic safety advocates believe all those factors add up to unreported distracted driving deaths. While the NHTSA reported that only 448 deaths were linked to cell phone use in 2015, experts believe the true number could be at least three times higher. Part of the problem is inadequate reporting of cellphone-related car crashes by state law enforcement agencies. Another problem is the public's failure to take distracted driving as seriously as drunk driving.

One problem that attorneys representing people who have been injured by a distracted driver is that unlike with alcohol impairment, there presently exists no reliable test to measure distraction. However, experienced plaintiff's counsel can sometimes use the cellphone usage data of the motorist to demonstrate negligence.

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

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