The number of fatal vehicle crashes involving cell phone use is much greater than what is being reported, according to the National Safety Council (NSC).
In its report, Crashes involving cell phones: Challenges of collecting and reporting reliable crash data, the NSC says of fatal crashes it identified in 2011 that involved cell phone use, only 52% were coded that way in data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
NSC and FocusDriven, an advocacy group that works with cell phone-distracted driving victims and their families, maintain a database of crashes.
The two organizations compared their information on these crashes with how they are coded in NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).
The NSC found a number of situations like this: “Failure to keep in proper lane” may be recorded by police as the factor that caused the fatal crash.
But what caused the driver to leave the lane? NSC uncovered that, in some cases, it was drivers using cell phones, but the NHTSA database doesn’t reflect that.
(Right about now, safety pros are thinking to themselves, They could use a lesson in root-cause analysis.)
If there’s a silver-lining in this under-reporting, it might be this: According to NSC, the reporting actually improved from 2009 to 2011.
In 2009, only 8% of fatal crash cases involving cell phone use were coded that way. The number rose to 35% in 2010.
Note: NHTSA changed categories for crash causes in 2010. That might be one reason why the reporting has improved.
Besides the NSC study, there is other anecdotal evidence that something is not quite right about fatal crash reporting in the U.S.
In 2011, Tennessee reported it had 93 fatal crashes that involved cell phones use. But New York, a state with three times the population, said it had one. Texas, with four times the population of Tennessee, reported 40 such crashes.
Federal data show cell phones were involved in 350 fatal crashes in 2011. Given the NSC’s study, that number may actually be closer to 700, or even more.
OSHA calls for employer action
In its new, two-page publication on distracted driving, OSHA encourages businesses to take action to reduce the number of fatal crashes involving cell phone use:
“As a business owner or manager, it’s your legal responsibility under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to safeguard drivers at work … Employers should prohibit texting while driving.”
The publication also points out that more workers are killed every year in motor vehicle crashes than any other cause.
OSHA says when it receives a credible complaint that an employer requires texting while driving or organizes work to that texting is a practical necessity, the agency will investigate and issue citations and penalties under the General Duty Clause to end the practice.
Does your company prohibit certain types of cell phone use while employees are driving for work purposes? Let us know in the comments below.