The U.S. has seen a 14-percent spike in roadway fatalities over the past two years. It’s also seen the biggest back-to-back increase in motor vehicle–related death rates per mile driven in more than 50 years and 37,461 lives lost by drivers, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians in 2016 alone.
Official statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation seemingly counter this claim, attributing only about 9 percent of traffic deaths to distracted driving in general and far fewer to phone use specifically. In fact, the DOT stats suggest that even that minuscule percentage attributed to phone use has dropped over the past year.
Yet outsiders such as the nonprofit National Safety Council have long challenged these figures. The organization has pointed out that, among other issues, police reports, which form the backbone of the data reported to the federal agency, often lack fields to record texting, hands-free cellphone use, driver-assistance technologies, and use of infotainment systems as factors of accidents.
Even when they do, it often involves the culprit being caught or admitting to the distraction—all of which lead to systematic undercounting. In its reassessment of data from 2015, the NSC estimated that cellphone usage was involved in 26 percent of all traffic accidents. A study released this year by Cambridge Mobile Telematics, a company that creates apps to monitor driving and smartphone usage for insurance purposes, similarly found that approximately a quarter of drivers involved in crashes were using their phones during or in the minute before the accidents occurred.