“Since many things distract drivers, cellphone use may be replacing distractions that drivers would engage in absent phones,” [Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Vice President Russ] Rader said. “So the overall level of distraction may not be going down, even though phone use is.”From all the "hang up and drive" hype, you'd think we'd be talking about more than 1.2 percent of fatal accidents. That figure seems low even to someone like me who's a skeptic of criminalizing common behaviors like cell-phone use. While every death is tragic, I'd have expected more fatalities than that to have been on the phone just as a matter of Bayesian probability since, from my own observation, at any given time more than 1.2 percent of drivers seem to be on the phone.
Crash statistics similarly show that for as much attention as cellphones get by policymakers and the media, they contribute to a small percentage of crashes.
There were 30,800 fatal crashes nationwide in 2012, a report this year from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states. Of those, 3,050 involved a distracted driver — 378 of whom were on cellphones, the federal data indicate.
That means cellphone use contributed to 1.2 percent of fatal crashes nationwide in 2012.
Federal data from 2010 to 2012 demonstrate that crashes involving cellphones account for about 5 percent to 7 percent of crashes caused by distraction, which in turn make up only about 16 percent of all crashes.
By contrast, few politicians want to talk about the much more significant cause of fatal accidents in Texas: Underinvestment in transportation infrastructure, particularly in the oil patch where the Eagle Ford shale region has seen a 40 percent increase in fatal crashes, but really throughout the state. Those parsimonious budget decisions at the Legislature are contributing more to the traffic fatality total than drivers talking on cell phones. But it's not as much fun to hold a press conference demagoguing against oneself. So it's better from a pol's perspective to find some group to blame and criminalize, like cell-phone users, even if in the scheme of things that's not the most common cause of driving fatalities, by a long shot, and bans may even make the problem worse.