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NHTSA Releases New Report on Distracted Driving

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has released a new report on distracted driving that analyzes accident statistics from 2015. With smartphone use becoming nearly universal, particularly among younger drivers, there has been an increasing national focus on the inherent dangers of distracted driving. NHTSA uses its data collection systems to categorize – and isolate – the various causes of distracted driving accidents.

Causes of Distracted Driving

Of course, distracted driving can arise from factors other than smartphones – NHTSA defines a “distraction-affected crash” as any crash in which a driver was identified as distracted at the time of the crash. Other causes of distracted driving that are tracked statistically include distractions caused by other vehicle passengers, the need to look at and manipulate car radios, climate controls and other vehicle components, and distractions from objects and events outside the vehicle.

Key Findings

These are some major takeaways from the March 2017 report:

  • 10% of fatal crashes and 15% of injury-causing crashes in 2015 are reported as distraction-affected.
  • Distraction-affected crashes resulted in 3,477 fatalities and 391,000 injuries in 2015.
  • Drivers between ages of 15-19 had the highest percentage of fatal crashes caused by driver distraction (9%) than any other age group.
  • 551 pedestrians, cyclists and other non-vehicle occupants were killed in distracted driving accidents.

Fatal Accidents Caused by Phone Use

14% of the fatal distraction-affected crashes in 2015 were attributed to cell phone use, meaning that the police report indicated that at the time of the crash the driver was talking on, listening to or manipulating a cell phone (or engaging in some other phone-related activity). Drivers under 30 were disproportionately represented both in the categories of drivers involved in fatal distraction-affected crashes and drivers in fatal crashes distracted specifically by cell phone use.

For example, drivers 15-19 years of age constituted 7% of all drivers involved in fatal crashes, but accounted for 9% of those in distraction-affected crashes, and 14% of those in crashes involving cell phone-related distraction. Statistics for drivers in their 20s showed a similar pattern – they were 24% of the drivers in all fatal crashes, 27% of those involved in fatal distraction-affected crashes, and 33% of the drivers in fatal crashes specifically attributed to cell phone-distraction.

Crash Injuries Caused by Phone Use

Of the 391,000 people estimated to be injured in distraction-affected accidents, NHTSA estimates that 30,000 – or 8% — were injured in cell phone-related crashes.  The number of injuries in 2015 and the proportion attributed to cell phone distractions were generally consistent with the figures from the prior 4 years.

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