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Someone is fudging texting and driving death estimates

Illustration for article titled Someone is fudging texting and driving death estimates

A few weeks back I wrote a blog post comparing two data points from two federal agencies: The number of deaths resulting from text messaging while driving and the number of deaths resulting from syphilis.


The conclusion was that more die from syphilis than from texting and driving.

But a new study claims that 3,000 teenagers die annually as a result of texting and driving. Remember, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration said in 2011 there were 39 texting and driving "incidents."


For those scoring at home, the Cohen Children's Medical Center in New York says there were 77 times more deaths as a result of TWD than fatal TWD incidents reported by NHTSA. Since NHTSA, in its 2011 research note, did not report number of actual deaths — only "incidents" — I'm going to use a potentially wildly inaccurate variable to make a point. If an average of four deaths occurred for every one reported NHTSA incident, that means 156 people died as a direct result of TWD.

The Cohen report estimates 3,000 teenagers died during roughly the same period.

For another comparison, NHTSA says 3,331 people — of any age — died in accidents involving any kind of distracted driving — eating, reading, putting on makeup, etc.


Clearly, the numbers don't add up.

A couple of points: It's likely the NHTSA numbers are low because some drivers don't want to admit they were using a cell phone before they were involved in an accident.


But at the same time, the Cohen study infers that nearly as many teenagers — which make up a mere 10 percent of all licensed drivers — died from a single form of distracted driving (texting and driving) as NHTSA says died from all forms of distracted driving.

Follow the fun: @karlhenk

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