(WWLP) – With holiday travel around the corner, the National Distracted Driving Coalition’s new report called Distracted Driving Prevalence Data: Sources, Challenges & Technological Solutions says the distracted driving problem is underestimated.

A press release from National Distracted Driving Coalition indicates this poses a risk of delay in the development and implementation of policies. Robyn Robertson, President & CEO of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) and co-author of the new report explains.

“Crash data sources are fraught with limitations because it can be challenging for officers to determine whether distraction was a factor without physical evidence or drivers admitting fault,” Robertson said. “This means crash data numbers are likely underestimated, which can make distraction appear to be a lower priority to policymakers when compared to speeding or impaired driving.”

The report outlines critical data gaps like collision data, conviction data, naturalistic driving studies, observational studies, telephone, and online surveys, in-person surveys, and cellphone user data.

In relation to collision data, states with enforced texting bans were shown to have lower motor vehicle collision death rates with drivers aged 16-19. NHTSA collision data occupants vs. non-occupants shows that distracted driving can be harmful to road users who are not distracted drivers as well.

According to the report, these are some examples of limitations of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data:

  1. Surviving drivers may not admit to driving while distracted.
  2. Police collision reports may not include data on different types of devices that may distract drivers.
  3. Prior to 2001, FARS data did not differentiate between different types of distraction.
  4. Witnesses involved in a crash may have been killed or injured.
  5. Potential technological distractions may have been damaged or broken in a crash, making it difficult to detect whether it was in use.
  6. Other than witness reports, there may be a lack of evidence to determine if a driver was reaching for an object or adjusting controls.
  7. Types of data variables collected in police reports about distraction vary in detail and by jurisdiction

“Whether we’re talking about government data, observational studies, or survey data, these studies help illustrate the distracted driving problem,” adds Jennifer Smith, CEO, and founder of Stopdistractions.org. “But due to limitations in these data sources, it’s fair to say it’s an even bigger problem than we’re able to measure, and that may negatively affect policy and resource decisions to support prevention strategies.”

In Massachusetts, it is illegal to text and drive. If you are caught texting behind the wheel, there are fines of up to $500. However, the state allows drivers to use the hands-free option on mobile telephones.

How to manage distracting driving, according to Mass.gov:

  1. Turn it off. Turn your phone off or switch to silent mode before you get in the car. Or better yet, put the phone away in a place it cannot be accessed while driving.
  2. Spread the word. Set up a special message to tell callers that you are driving and you’ll get back to them as soon as possible, or sign up for a service that offers this.
  3. Pull over. If you need to make a call, pull over to a safe area first.
  4. Use your passengers. Ask a passenger to communicate with you.
  5. X the text. Don’t ever text and drive, surf the web or read your email while driving. It is dangerous and against the law in most states.
  6. Know the law. Familiarize yourself with state and local laws before you get in the car. 
  7. Prepare. Start your GPS or review maps and directions before you start to drive. If you need help when you are on the road, ask a passenger to help or pull over to a safe location to review the map and/or directions. 
  8. Secure your pets. Pets can be a big distraction in the car. Always secure your pets properly before you start to drive.
  9. Keep the kids safe. Pull over to a safe location to address situations with your children in the car.
  10. Focus on the task at hand. Refrain from smoking, eating, drinking, reading, and any other activity that takes your mind and eyes off the road.