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Are police distracted on reporting accidents due to distraction?

The highway fatality rates over the last few years have been unsettled, with decreases followed by increases, followed by another decrease. Last year, fortunately, the number decreased, but they remain far too high. In 2013, there was a 3 percent drop, to about 32,500, but that is still a staggering loss of life.

A vice president from the National Safety Council (NSC) noted that the fluctuation appears to be weather related, with the uptick occurring in 2012, which saw record warm temperatures in the U.S., and a very mild winter. He noted that bad weather keeps drivers off the roads, and when people drive less they have fewer car accidents. 

Last year, the decline may be attributed to the return of an average winter and apparently a reduction in the number of miles driven. He was troubled, however, by the higher number of fatalities than in 2011.

This may be due to a reporting problem. When accidents are analyzed, researchers rely on the codes used by police investigating motor vehicle accidents to sort the results. While distracted driving is seen as a growing threat, the number of accidents classified as due to distraction does not seem to be increasing.

They suspect that police may code the cause of a fatality as speeding, when it was actually distraction. The driver may have been speeding, but he lost control because he was texting or viewing something on his phone.

The NSC is very worried that "voice-operated in-vehicle infotainment" systems will become so ubiquitous that we will it will allow the formation of dangerous habits that may be difficult to reverse. In other words, people will become so addicted to having them in a vehicle that they will demand them, even when they contribute to deadly distracted driving accidents. 

Source: Fleetowner.com, "Digging deeper into highway fatality numbers," Sean Kilcarr, February 25, 2014

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