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Cellphone use while driving may be underreported in New York, nationally

According to a new study by the National Safety Council, cellphone use may be responsible for more car crash fatalities than previously thought in New York and nationwide. The council recently reviewed the records of 180 fatal car accidents from 2009 to 2011 in which it was highly probable that the driver was using a cellphone at the time of the accident. Only half of the 2011 car accidents were coded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as being cellphone related. Thirty-five percent of the 2010 accidents and only eight percent of the 2009 accidents were linked to cellphone use.

One reason that distracted driving is underreported is that the NHTSA's database records are gathered by each state from local police reports. Police investigating accidents do not always determine if drivers were distracted by some kind of mobile device when they crashed. Unless a driver or a witness mentions the cellphone use, most police officers won't look into it further to see if cellphone usage was a factor.

A wide discrepancy in state numbers supports the idea that the NHTSA's numbers are not accurate. For example, despite New York having three times the population of Tennessee, The Empire State only reported 11 cellphone-related fatalities in 2010-2011. In the same period, Tennessee reported 93 cellphone-related fatalities.

Legislating cellphone use while driving

The president and CEO of the NSC says that underreported numbers are dangerous because they don't reflect the true dangers of using cellphones while driving, according to the Associated Press. As a result, she says, efforts to legislate cellphone use behind the wheel may not receive the support they would if fatality statistics were accurate.

In an effort to curb distraction for drivers, states are starting to legislate the use of mobile devices while driving. Ten states plus the District of Columbia require drivers to use hands-free devices. Thirty-six states plus D.C. ban all cellphone use by novice drivers, and 39 states ban texting while driving. However, these laws are not easy to enforce and may not be reducing distracted driving. A Pew study found 40 percent of all American teens say they have seen a driver endanger others by using a cellphone while driving.

Dangers of texting and driving

Texting is especially dangerous. If a driver texts while driving, he or she is 23 times more likely than a non-distracted driver to get into an accident, according to the NHTSA. Sending a text may only take a driver's eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds on average, but at 55 mph, that's the time it takes for the car to drive a distance of an entire football field.

As sobering as these statistics are, many motorists continue to use cellphones while driving. If you suspect that a cellphone played a role in your accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to explore your right to compensation.