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NHTSA urges New Jersey, other states to ban phones for drivers

A recent study effort by the National Safety Council reveals that underreporting of cellphone-related automobile wrecks that occur in New Jersey and across the country significantly skews data. The reviewers looked at data from almost 200 crashes that occurred between 2009 and 2011 and seemed to have strong evidence of cellphone usage. In none of these years did the number of traffic reports that mentioned cellphone use exceed 50 percent of the total.

According to the data, about half of the cases involving drivers who admitted to law enforcement officers that they had been using cellphones in fatal accidents weren't even recorded that way. The National Safety Council president believes that such inconsistencies in reporting standards makes it hard to figure out the true impact of phone usage on driving. Many states require police to obtain subpoenas for cellphone records, and most officers don't even investigate the possibility of cellphones being used without drivers first admitting to the fact. These factors and the lack of uniform national highway laws banning cellphones may make it difficult for courts to determine when distracted driving led to a wrongful death.

A Centers for Disease Control survey from 2011 showed that cellphone usage was heavy among younger drivers, with 46 percent of 17-year-olds and 52 percent of 18-year-olds admitting to texting while driving. Other evidence shows that text messaging while driving is now the leading cause of teenage fatalities, but these drivers aren't the only ones who suffer.

Those who fall victim to distracted drivers may experience severe mental and physical trauma, or they may even be killed in an accident attributed to such a driver. In many cases, their families also experience pain and suffering or economic losses. Because laws aren't uniform about accident reporting, however, many victims seek legal assistance to prove that they were wronged. An attorney may enlist an accident reconstruction expert in order to demonstrate that negligence caused a fatal or debilitating accident.

Source: CBS News, "Study: Distracted driving deaths underreported", May 07, 2013

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