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Distracted Driving: Where's the Data?

2:00 PM --AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are putting some public relations muscle behind the dangers of distracted driving. This filled me with hope because it has been difficult to find hard data on distracted driving fatalities. The way such things are reported varies wildly from state to state, so the awareness has skyrocketed, but the data is still scarce.

Survey data about distracted driving is available, though. Late last year a survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was able to estimate, based on driver responses, that in 2010, around 9 percent of the vehicles on the road had a driver using some type of phone (either hand-held or handsfree). Less than 1 percent of drivers that year were estimated to be visually manipulating a digital device or texting. We can assume the problem is worse now.

But, again, one thing I can't lock onto is data that directly shows how many fatal car crashes annually can be directly attributed to someone texting or talking while driving. The awareness campaigns are nice, but they aren't producing any meaningful research, and I'm skeptical that such efforts really work, given our tendency to tune out corporate moralizing.

Distracted driving is a growing problem, but nowhere near the biggest threat on our roadways. A look at actual traffic fatalities and what causes them shows that:

  • The number of fatal car crashes each year has been falling steadily since 2005. In 2011, motor vehicle deaths reached a 60-year low.
  • About 30 percent of all car crash fatalities, no matter what year you check, involved a driver who was legally drunk.

The alcohol-related fatality stats are fascinating given that the awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving is arguably higher now than at any other point in the past two decades.

Of course, texting-while-driving is a still a problem. But in the context of keeping people safe behind the wheel, we have a much bigger killer on the road, and we're going out of our way to ignore it.

— Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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