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Are cellphones more at fault for car crashes than alcohol?

After a long period in which car crash fatalities declined, the number rose significantly in 2015 and 2016 on U.S. roadways.

The experts who study such statistics were perplexed by the sudden surge in highway deaths. However, the usual suspects, speeding and drinking, have been joined by cell phone use, which may be going to the head of the line.

Collecting clues

To begin with, cellphone use is up. Ownership increased from 75 percent to 81 percent between 2014 and 2016. This increase is the first clue the researchers noted when looking for the cause behind the rise in car crash fatalities. The second clue was the way in which drivers use their phones. Placing or receiving a call has taken a back seat to such activities as texting or checking in to social media sites, all while operating a vehicle.

Identifying victims

As with accidents involving alcohol use, you might assume that other motorists are the major victims in crashes caused by drivers who are using their cellphones; certainly, these unfortunate people are well represented in the fatality statistics. However, the increase in deaths is, for the most part, found among pedestrians, cyclists and motorcycle riders. Why? Simply because they are not as easy as an SUV or truck for a driver to see. Remember that the attention of the motorist is being divided between road and cellphone at the time of a crash.

Elusive data

Much of what we know about highway fatalities and cellphone use comes from databases organized by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. However, the National Safety Council suspects that the figures regarding crashes caused by distracted driving are too low: The NSC found that only about 50 percent of the fatal crashes known to be related to cellphone use was noted as such in the NHTSA files.

Bad things happen to good people

A personal injury attorney will tell you that as a motorist, you may be doing all the right things, but other drivers may not be as responsible. There are speeders, reckless drivers and drunk drivers. Yet something as ordinary and dangerous as cellphone use may play a significant role if you find yourself the victim of a car crash.