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Phones track everything but their role in car wrecks

While police can access phone records, the process is difficult and requires a subpoena due to privacy laws.

According to reports, smartphones track everything from what a user says, writes, location and searches on the internet. However, the one thing they don't do is track crashes caused by drivers distracted by their phones.

Reports state that even a decade after governments cracked down on the dangers of using phones while driving, there is no definitive database on the number of crashes caused directly as a result of phone distraction. Experts even state that the current estimate is most likely understated and that accidents caused due to distracted drivers are rising.

As per NHTSA's data, between 2020 and 2021, car crashes increased by 16% from 14,400 per day to 16,700 a day. Also, in 2021, nearly 43,000 drivers died in a car crash - a 16-year high. The agency's data also shows that of the 377 fatal crashes, just under 1% were reported to involve drivers distracted by their phones. While just 8% of the 2.5 million non-fatal crashes involved the driver using a smartphone.

However, these numbers only include crashes wherein the police report specifically mentions such a distraction. Reports state that usually smartphone use while driving goes unmentioned because many times, the driver doesn't admit it or there is no witness to identify it. Also, while the police can access phone records, the process is difficult and requires a subpoena due to privacy laws.

David Strayer, a Cognitive Scientist at the University of Utah, states, "That analysis is expensive, and unless the police really think there is a criminal case, they don’t do it." He also added, "Unless someone fesses up to using the phone, the police don’t consider it to be a factor."

This, according to safety experts, makes the current data very unscientific and inaccurate. Jake Nelson, Director of traffic Safety Advocacy & Research for AAA, stated, "It’s almost certainly an underestimate because people don’t like to admit things like that." He added, "It’s very frustrating to me that we don’t have access to better data, especially now that we’re at a 16-year high."

The report mentions that while drivers don't admit the distraction to the police, they do admit it in anonymous surveys. As per data published in the Journal of Safety Research, 50% of drivers admitted to engaging in smartphone-related distractions in the last 30 days. Aimee Cox, a research scientist and a contributing author on the paper in the Journal of Safety Research, stated that people who use their phones downplay the risks because there is no clear database or information source to relate such behaviour to crashes & fatalities.

Strayer stated that phones are equipped with sensors and other tracking & surveillance technology which can connect the time of a car crash with the driver's usage at that time. However, "Your phone leaves lots of breadcrumbs, but nobody is looking at them," he said.

Source: NYTimes

 
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