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NHTSA report shows distracted driving related accidents in decline

Campaigns against distracted driving are all the rage, but according to the facts, shown by NHTSA, we are not seeing an increase in distracted driving crashes involving deaths and injuries overall.


Watching the daily news one would get the impression that cell phones and texting cause most accidents and the rate of those accidents involving injury is dramatically on the rise. However, both of those conclusions are wrong based on the facts gathered and reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In fact, distracted driving accidents, which is the accident category that cell phone and texting related crashes fall under, are declining, not increasing. A close look at the facts reveals some interesting truths that don’t square well with the industry that has sprung up to proselytize against using our smart phones in the car. A recent article here in Torque News about distracted driving deaths created a wave of reader reaction with much of the feedback saying that deaths were not the problem, it was the dramatic increase in cell phone related accidents that was the point.

Distracted Driving Accidents Facts
According to the 2011 data released by NHTSA this week, the rate of accidents with injuries caused by distracted driving declined from 2010 to 2011. The decline was not small, but rather about seven percent. In 2011 the number of people injured in distracted driving accidents was 387,000. This is down from 416,000 injured by all types of distracted driving in 2010. Deaths did uptick in this category according to this report rising from 3,267 to 3,331, which is a 1.9 percent increase, and less statistically notable, though every death is a tragedy. According to the report summary “NHTSA believes this increase can be attributed in part to increased awareness and reporting.” About 90% of all deaths related to vehicles have nothing to do with distracted driving according to NHTSA. Cell phones, and similar related causes of accidents, are a sub-set of the ten percent of accidents involving distraction.

Government Focus

Despite this, in his comments on the new report Ray Lahood, US transportation secretary again lists distracted driving as an important area for our resources to focus on saying "The latest numbers show how the tireless work of our safety agencies and partners, coupled with significant advances in technology and continued public education, can really make a difference on our roadways. As we look to the future, it will be more important than ever to build on this progress by continuing to tackle head-on issues like seat belt use, drunk driving, and driver distraction." It is interesting our Transportation Secretary did not mention any focus on motorcycle deaths, which are both higher in overall fatalities (at 4,302 in 2011) and also increasing at a rate faster than the rate of traffic deaths due to distracted driving. Nonetheless, the drum continues to be beaten that this is a major problem. Thank goodness that drunk driving is included in the focus. Drunks killed a third of all the people who died on roadways this year, as they have done in almost every recent year, and they kill more than three times as many people each year than the entire distracted driving category does (over 10,000 compared to about 3,200).

In Rhode Island (where one can drive a motorcycle legally without a helmet) there is a large roadway sign on the main route through the state, Route 95, that keeps a tally of all the motorists killed in 2012 who were belted and unbelted. The number of sane, careful people (belted) killed this year so far is still in the low 20s. The last time the author saw the sign this month it was 23. As the new NHTSA report shows, our roadways have never been safer, and it would be wise for us to focus on the real killers of motorists.

Photo courtesy of and WXIItv


Aaron Turpen    December 11, 2012 - 9:14AM

"About 90% of all deaths related to vehicles have nothing to do with distracted driving according to NHTSA. Cell phones, and similar related causes of accidents, are a sub-set of the ten percent of accidents involving distraction."

Tell that to the soccer moms and ticket-hungry police precincts who make it appear that there's an unmitigated slaughter fest of cell phone using death squads out there roaming the streets.