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IIHS study highlights growing distracted driving problem

The results of a recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study suggest that cell phones are encouraging people in Iowa and around the country to engage in increasingly reckless behavior while behind the wheel. The study adds to the growing body of research about the addictive nature of electronic communications and the importance of cell phones in American life. The IIHS researchers reached their conclusions after observing how drivers in four Virginia communities used their cell phones in 2014 and 2018.

Many road safety experts link a recent and worrying rise in car accident fatalities with explosive growth in cell phone use, but the IIHS found about the same number of motorists using cell phones in 2018 as they did in 2014. However, they observed a noticeable change in how the cell phones were being used. In 2014, most drivers used the devices to make or answer calls. In 2018, drivers were far more likely to be using their cell phones to write or read emails or text messages or access the internet.

The IIHS report is worrying because the kind of behavior observed by researchers distracts drivers for several seconds and takes their eyes as well as their minds off the road ahead. Recent studies have concluded that the chances of being involved in a fatal accident rise by 66 percent when drivers fiddle with their cell phones while behind the wheel.

Experts say that government crash statistics fail to reveal the true scope of the distracted driving problem because they are heavily reliant on statements made by drivers who may not be eager to admit that they were using a cell phone when they crashed. When experienced personal injury attorneys suspect that one of their clients was injured by a motorist who was using a cell phone, they may scrutinize wireless service records and internet activity for evidence of distraction that the police could have missed.

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