NHTSA Revises Methods for Distracted-Driving Data Collection

distration-affected statsFederal safety officials have changed the way they classify fatal crashes involving drivers who may have been talking or texting on cell phones or were otherwise distracted when crashes took place.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced this week that it has refined its data collection on fatal automobile crashes to better distinguish accidents in which use of a mobile communications device was involved.

Until now, the federal agency has noted the presence of a cell phone in vehicles involved in crashes along with a broad range of possible driver distractions, including careless driving. The new designation of “distraction-affected crashes,” is meant to more closely gauge the effect of driver use of mobile communication devices on driving.

Driver use of wireless communication devices is not only a safety concern–it can also have financial implications. Many states have imposed fines and other penalties on those caught texting or talking while driving. And the crashes that can result from distracted driving can only make cheap auto insurance for teenagers–the demographic group safety officials say is most likely to engage in that illicit behavor–more difficult than ever to find.

According to NHTSA, some 3,092 people died in distraction-affected crashes in 2010, the first year for which officials began using the new methodology.

The announcement comes amid heightened federal scrutiny of distracted driving, with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) this week urging states to ban all nonemergency use of cell phones and other electronic devices by drivers.

According to federal safety officials and insurance industry experts, driver text-messaging, talking on cell phones and other distractions are a major safety concern.

Safety officials say distracted driving—which can include everything from chatting with passengers and changing the radio station to texting or talking on cell phones—contributed to 450,000 crash-related injuries in 2009.

NHTSA officials liken the new focus on causes of driver distraction to the administration’s changes to its reporting of alcohol-related crashes.

Until 2006, the agency noted accidents in which a driver, pedestrian or bicyclist had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .01 or higher. The agency has since narrowed its focus to examine “alcohol-impaired driving crashes,” including only those accidents in which a motorist had a BAC of.08 or above, the presumptive limit nationwide.

The change in methodology means current statistics on distraction-related deaths cannot be compared to NHTSA statistics from 2009 and earlier. Observational studies by the agency say 5 percent of drivers in traffic on U.S. roadways appear to be talking on hand-held cell phones.


About Matthew Morisset
Matthew Morisset is a proud alumnus of the University of Redlands, where he obtained a degree in English Literature. Utilizing his passion for analysis and writing, Matthew looks for important trends in the auto insurance industry and their implications for consumers and the market as a whole.

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