North Carolina residents are likely aware that the number of road users killed in accidents involving distracted drivers has risen sharply. The increase in distracted driving fatalities is often linked with cellphone use behind the wheel, but a study of motor vehicle deaths over the last five years suggests that daydreaming is by far the greater road safety hazard. The study was conducted by a team from Erie Insurance, and it was released on April 3 to coincide with the launch of Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

The researchers discovered that distracted driving accidents accounted for about 10 percent of all road fatalities, but cellphone use was only found to be a factor in 14 percent of these crashes. Being lost in thought or daydreaming was the most common distraction and was a factor in 61 percent of the accidents. Other distractions included speaking with other vehicle occupants and watching events unfold outside the vehicle.

Some road safety advocates may question these findings because the data used was taken from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration maintains this database to provide accurate traffic accident statistics to government agencies and the general public, but much of the information used by NHTSA is taken from police reports. Some experts question the reliability of police reports because they are based on interviews conducted at accident scenes with motorists who may have reason to be less than forthcoming.

Experienced personal injury attorneys may conduct additional investigations when they suspect that their clients were injured by a distracted driver but police reports provide no conclusive proof. Attorneys could check cellphone records and social media posts to see if there was any activity when a car accident took place, and they may also check to see if the vehicles involved were equipped with data recorders that could reveal whether or not the brakes were applied.