To a large degree, the type of questions asked will determine the answers delivered. When it comes to collecting data, this is vitally important, because if an important element of some type of data is left out because the question is not asked, that element will be effectively excluded.
A very important part of developing effective safety responses to motor vehicle crashes is the questions asked of a police officer when they are writing up their crash report. If there is no question or check-box related to an element of the crash, the data may simply be lost forever.
When it comes to distracted driving, one major difficulty is determining the size of the problem. We really do not know how many vehicle crashes are caused by distracting factors.
In many jurisdictions, the form for the accident report may not have requested much detail as to the reasons for the crash. If a vehicle runs off the road and strikes a tree, the police report may indicate something bland and uninformative, like "driver failed to maintain control of vehicle, struck tree."
In an attempt to improve the quality of the data, the Michigan State Police will implement a new report form that will ask the investigating officer to provide much greater detail on any distraction that may have been a factor in the crash.
It specifically asks what the driver was doing prior to the crash, such as texting, setting a GPS or speaking on a hands-free cellphone. It even requires the officer to ask if the motorist was listening to an audio book or engaged in conversation with a passenger.
This report should allow a better understanding of the types of behavior that are most likely to cause distraction and crashes. Potentially it could help law enforcement and other safety specialists focus on behaviors that are most dangerous for drivers.
Source: mlive.com, "Distracted driving is focus of new Michigan police reports," John Agar, October 24, 2015