Hello? [CRASH]

(Photo: Intel Free Press / Flickr)(Photo: Intel Free Press / Flickr)

A new report argues that car crashes involving cell phones are significantly underreported.

So what is the number? There’s no hard data to go on, but the correct number for cell phone involvement in all crashes, says the report, is about one in four.

Common sense suggests that it’s right. And it also suggests that we need to do more right now to deter the use of phones (in any manner) while driving instead of waiting for better reporting procedures to prove it’s true and then acting. As long as leaders such as Texas Governor Rick Perry, with his opposition to a texting-and-driving ban, do nothing, lives will be lost on the road that didn’t have to be lost, prima facie a reason to do something now.

The new National Safety Council report reviewed 180 fatal crashes from 2009 to 2011, where evidence indicated driver cell phone use. But in 2011, says the report, only 52 percent of those crashes were coded in the national data as involving cell phone use.

“We believe the number of crashes involving cell phone use is much greater than what is being reported,” said Janet Froetscher president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “Many factors, from drivers not admitting cell phone use, to a lack of consistency in crash reports being used to collect data at the scene, make it very challenging to determine an accurate number.”

You can see how those factors that Froetscher mentions make the statistics shaky.

The report also brings up large differences in cell phone distraction fatal crashes reported by states. “For instance,” the report points out, “in 2011, Tennessee reported 93 fatal crashes that involved cell phone use, but New York, a state with a much larger population, reported only one. Texas reported 40, but its neighboring state Louisiana reported none.”

Based on risk and prevalence of cell phone use, as reported by research and NHTSA, the National Safety Council estimates 25 percent of all crashes involve cell phone use.