Distracted driving is a major problem in Tennessee. Never mind the fact that the Tennessee State Legislature made it illegal to text and drive on Volunteer State roads back in 2009. In 2016, 24,743 crashes in Tennessee involved a distracted driver, and Davidson County was the scene of 2,861 distracted driver crashes that year, as compared to just 1,469 a decade earlier.
However, the statistics almost certainly undercount the severity of the problem, due in part to challenges related to documenting how distracted driving caused an accident. While phone records, witness statements and accident reports all play a role, there are practical challenges with each, some of which may be addressed by technology and crash report updates.
What Are The Challenges of Using Phone Records and Witness Statements To Report Distracted Driving?
Last year, the National Safety Council (NSC) did a survey of more than 3,400 drivers nationwide, which found that “adult drivers were willing to engage in distracting behaviors often or occasionally,” with 32 percent admitting to reviewing or sending text messages.
In theory, one might think that obtaining phone records would be a surefire way to show that texting and driving was a factor in a crash, but the practical reality, according to the NSC, is that it can be difficult to obtain phone records from wireless companies, and even when records are obtained, “the data must align with the precise moment of [a] crash—a moment which is not always known.”
In an interview with NPR, Ben Lieberman (whose son was killed in a head-on collision caused by texting and driving), related how “phone records are tough to get … and it’s an agonizing process.” Plus, necessary detail might not be available from the existing records.
The experience inspired Lieberman to begin working with a company called Cellebrite to develop a so-called “textalyzer,” which would be capable of determining whether a driver was illegally using a phone before a crash. To use the “textalyzer,” a police officer would simply connect the device to the driver’s phone using a cord, and within a few minutes the device would show the last activity on the phone—with a time stamp. Lawmakers in Tennessee have reportedly shown interest in the device, which could be a game-changer if the technology works as advertised.
In the meantime, witness statements must still play a large role in collecting and reporting texting and driving data, even though “witness memories and statements may be inaccurate,” according to the aforementioned Crashes Involving Cell Phones white paper.
Car Accident Crash Report Updates
Another challenge is that crash reports haven’t necessarily kept pace with the rapid development of technology. So, for instance, in some states crash reports don’t have fields/codes specifically for texting or talking on a cell phone or using a GPS.
In terms of distracted driving, Tennessee crash reports are quite evolved, at least as compared to many other states. According to the National Safety Council’s recent report “Undercounted is Underinvested: How Incomplete Crash Reports Impact Efforts to Save Lives,” Tennessee crash reports provide a field or code to record:
Handheld (or any) cell phone use
- Texting with cell phones
- Other cell phone use like GPS navigation
- Non-technology distractions, such as reaching, looking, passengers, etc.
However, there is no field or code for reporting:
- Hands-free cell phone use
- Use of infotainment system features, voice recognition features integrated in vehicles, or
- Talking on cell phones
Furthermore, the existence of an available code or field doesn’t ensure it will be utilized. According to “Undercounted is Underinvested,” an analysis of 180 fatal crash reports showed that [even] when fields and codes are present, police often do not record cell phone use by drivers, even for fatal crashes…. In that project, the NSC found that driver cell phone use was recorded as a factor in fatal crashes only about half the time, even when drivers admitted phone use to police.”
Stopping Texting and Driving
Of course, in order to have the best possible understanding of the many ways that distracted driving causes accidents, there needs to be consistent and detailed documentation of driver usage of technology, including texting, apps, social media and infotainment systems.
As for myself, stopping texting and driving remains a personal passion of mine, which is why I say It’s Time to Take a Stand on Texting and Driving, and why my firm sponsors a $1,000 video scholarship contest to help stop texting & driving.
If you happen to be in the bad habit of texting and driving, I encourage you to review my tips for breaking the habit, which include:
- turning your phone off when you get in the car, and
- setting up an automated message that goes out to anyone who texts you while you are driving, telling them you will respond once you are off the road
And if you or a family member has had the misfortune of being injured in a distracted driving accident in Nashville or elsewhere in Middle Tennessee, contact me and I will get you justice.