Here’s Why It’s So Hard To Determine The Role Smartphones Play In Car Crashes

Distracted driving is a big problem, but we don't know exactly how big. Here’s Why It’s So Hard To Determine The Role Smartphones Play In Car Crashes Giphy

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It’s increasingly difficult for most folks to put away their smartphones even in situations where they arguably should … including behind the wheel.

That’s why distracted driving has become such a big problem in recent years, contributing to many collisions and countless more near-misses on the road. But if you think the phones themselves, which are powerful enough to take on almost any task imaginable, are helping to address the problem, prepare to be disappointed.

Digging into the data

First of all, let’s take a look at the rising number of car crashes reported over the past few years:

  • Between 2020 and 2021, there was a 16% increase in reported collisions
  • The average daily number of crashes increased from 14,400 to 16,700
  • Nearly 43,000 people died in collisions in 2021 the highest in 16 years

And while you might naturally assume smartphone distraction played a big role in that increase, that correlation is not evident in the official numbers.

Just 377 of the fatal wrecks (less than 1%) reported in 2021 included references to such distractions. Of the 2.5 million nonfatal wrecks, just 8% were reported as being caused by a smartphone-distracted driver.

The rest of the story

Since the only way to tabulate smartphone distractions generally requires drivers to admit they were distracted in police reports, the true number is likely much higher.

And more accurate data is available right there in the smartphones themselves. Of course, accessing it requires a complex series of analysis that typically requires a subpoena and compliance with a host of privacy laws.

When asked anonymously, however, drivers were more candid. Last year, about 20% of motorists surveyed said they regularly used their smartphones while driving and half said they’d done so at least once in the past 30 days.

Chris Agee
Chris Agee January 27th, 2024
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