NSC Response to IIHS Status Report, 'Eyes on the road: Searching for answers to the problem of distracted driving'

NSC Response to IIHS Status Report, 'Eyes on the road: Searching for answers to the problem of distracted driving'

​Itasca, IL, Oct. 24, 2014 - The new Status Report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety provides an evaluation of data collected by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in 2003-2004, and also evaluates the relationship between state laws that ban texting and handheld cell phone use and crash data reported to insurance companies. 

The National Safety Council is on record opposing all distraction from portable electronic devices while driving – there is no safe way they can be used. Looking at the full scope of the research, it’s abundantly clear that using an electronic device while driving makes you four times as likely to crash, handheld or hands-free.

NSC agrees with IIHS that a number of factors limit the validity of the conclusions reached in the Status Report, such as the underreporting of cell phone use in crash data, the acknowledgement that drivers could be switching to hands-free use (which is not illegal in any state) and the limitations of naturalistic studies. Studies that are based on limited data and underreported statistics produce findings that are incomplete and misleading.

IIHS states that in 2012, cell phone distraction was a contributing factor in 12 percent of fatalities attributed to driver distraction. However, cell phone use in crashes is significantly underreported – drivers don’t often admit to cell phone use, and it’s often not captured on crash reports. NSC estimates that distraction from cell phones is involved in 26 percent of all crashes based on an attributable risk model that takes into account the prevalence of drivers talking on cell phones, and the relative risk of this activity compared to not using cell phones while driving.

The report questions why crashes haven’t increased if cell phone distracted driving is on the rise. Over the past 20 years, a plethora of vehicle safety improvements, roadway safety efforts, laws and enforcement have been introduced. Given the combined life-saving effects of these efforts, we should be questioning why crashes haven’t decreased far more than they have.

The report also queries why insurance claims haven’t decreased when handheld cell phone use has declined. While the enforcement of handheld laws does seem to be reducing handheld device use, IIHS acknowledges that drivers could be switching to hands-free. Therefore, we would not expect to see much reduction in claims because studies have shown that hands-free is not risk-free.

Finally, NSC and a number of other researchers have raised concerns about how naturalistic studies are conducted and coded. The VTTI 100-car naturalistic study used a very small sample size and was conducted a decade ago.

The underlying message of the report seems to be that other driver distractions that lead to crashes, beyond cell phone use, need to be addressed. We strongly agree with this. However, given more than 30 studies showing the dangers of hands-free devices, nearly 1.5 million estimated crashes involving driver use of electronic devices and the prevalence of self-reported use of cell phones and in-vehicle infotainment systems behind the wheel, the National Safety Council will continue to advocate for eliminating the dangers associated with electronic device use while driving.

About the National Safety Council

Founded in 1913 and chartered by Congress, the National Safety Council, nsc.org, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to save lives by preventing injuries and deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy. NSC advances this mission by partnering with businesses, government agencies, elected officials and the public in areas where we can make the most impact – distracted driving, teen driving, workplace safety, prescription drug overdoses and Safe Communities.

Contact: Kathy Lane
NSC Communications Director
(630) 775-2307
[email protected]

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