NHTSA measures distracted-driving deaths

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Dec. 8 unveiled a new measure of fatalities related to distracted driving called “distraction-affected crashes.”

Introduced for 2010 as part of a broader effort by the agency to refine its data collection to get better information about the role of distraction in crashes, the new measure is designed to focus more narrowly on crashes in which a driver was most likely to have been distracted.

While NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System previously recorded a broad range of potential distractions, such as careless driving and a cell phone present in the vehicle, the new measure focuses on distractions that are most likely to affect crash involvement, such as distraction by dialing a cellular phone or texting and distraction by an outside person/event. New data released by NHTSA using its refined methodology show an estimated 3,092 fatalities in distraction-affected crashes in 2010.

While the explicit change in methodology means the new measure cannot be compared to the 5,474 “distraction-related” fatalities reported in 2009, other NHTSA data offer some indication that driver distraction continues to be a significant problem.

The agency’s nationwide survey of drivers in traffic remains unchanged between 2009 and 2010, with 5 percent of drivers seen talking on handheld phones. In addition, given ongoing challenges in capturing the scope of the problem – including individuals’ reluctance to admit behavior, lack of witnesses and in some cases the death of the driver – NHTSA believes the actual number of crashes that involve distracted driving could be higher.

A new national NHTSA survey offers additional insights into how drivers behave when it comes to texting and cell phone use while behind the wheel and their perceptions of the safety risks of distracted driving.

The full MCSAC will discuss the issue Oct. 26-27 and the subcommittee will submit its report afterward. The committee will review the report in December when it finalizes recommendations to the agency.

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The Oct. 24-27 meeting in Arlington, Va., is open to the public, who also can provide comments at 4:30 p.m. (EDT) each meeting day. Written comments, which must include the Docket No., FMCSA-2006-26367, may be submitted by Oct. 14 by one of the following methods:

  • Online, using the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov.
  • By mail to Docket Management Facility: U.S. Department of Transportation; 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE; West Building, Ground Floor, Room W12-140; Washington, DC 20590-0001.
  • By fax at (202) 493-2251.

More information is here in the meeting notice published in the Oct. 7 Federal Register.

Fed agency measures distracted-driving deaths