Distracted Driving: The Far-Reaching Impact of a Major Problem

by | Sep 30, 2019 | Auto & Home

Many people are not truly aware of the dangers of distracted driving today. This article sheds light and offers some startling statistics that may surprise and even shock you.

Approximately 10 people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver, and those numbers are growing. But, what is the definition of “Distracted Driving?” It is defined as “driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from driving.” Distracted driving substantially increases the chance of a motor vehicle accident, without a doubt.

Who Is Most at Risk?

Young adult and teen drivers are most at risk. Drivers under the age of 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.

In 2017, 9% of all teen motor vehicle crash deaths involved distracted driving. The CDC’s national Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) monitors health-risk behaviors among high school students, including texting or emailing while driving.

Recent YRBSS findings include that in 2017, 42% of high school students who drove in the past 30 days reported sending a text or email while driving. Students who reported frequent texting while driving were:

  • Less likely to wear a seatbelt;
  • More likely to ride with a driver who had been drinking; and
  • More likely to drink and drive.

Serious Statistics

• US deaths: In 2016, 3,450 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver.
• US injuries: In 2015, 391,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver.

Distracted Driver Stats Over 5-Yr. Period

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015

Distracted Driving Deaths:

3,092 3,331 3,328 3,154 3,179 3,477
All Motor Vehicle Deaths:
32,999 32,479 33,782 32,894 32,744 35,092
Distracted Driving Injuries:
416,000 387,000 421,000 424,000 431,000 391,000
All Motor Vehicle Injuries:
2,239,000 2,217,000 2,362,000 2,313,000 2,338,000 2,443,000

  • According to studies, just under 40% of drivers surveyed, aged 18 to 34, said they felt a high degree of pressure to respond to work-related messages while driving, compared to 25% of the national average among all age groups.
  • Parents with young children were more likely to be distracted while driving (about 85%) than were adults with no small children (approx. 75%).
  • 1 in 3 female drivers admitted to taking photos while driving.
  • About 15% of iPhone users said they never get distracted while driving, versus approx. 25% of Android users and just under 40% of users of other mobile operating systems.
  • iPhone users are more than twice as likely than Android users to video-chat, use Instagram, stream shows on Netflix or Hulu, and take photos and videos while driving.
  • 10% of iPhone users admitted watching videos on YouTube while driving, while 4% of Android users admitted to doing the same.


The phrases “driving while texting” and “driving while distracted” may seem interchangeable, but “distracted driving” encompasses much more than “merely checking your cell phone at a stop light.” Distracted driving has major ramifications related to traffic safety, violations, and insurance rates.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, when you are not giving your full attention to the road, the cars around you, and the speed limit, you are considered to be “driving distracted.”

There are 3 types of distracted driving:

  • Manual Distraction: when a driver takes their hands off the wheel to adjust the radio, reach for an item, or pet their dog.
  • Visual Distraction: when a driver takes their eyes off the road to look at an accident, glance at a text message, or look at their kids in the back seat.
  • Cognitive Distraction: when a driver takes their mind off the act of driving to daydream, think about a problem at work, or consider their grocery list.

These distractions may seem fairly innocuous, but so much can happen in an instant. In the blink of an eye, drivers can find themselves having an accident.

More Facts to Know

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), a little over 30% of drivers are distracted by their dogs in the car. While 80% of people admitted to driving frequently with their pets, only 17% used a pet restraint, such as a seatbelt or kennel.

A driver is eight times more likely to be involved in a crash when reaching for an object and three times more likely to crash while eating or drinking.

Distracted driving, which includes texting while driving, is the cause of more than nearly 60% of crashes involving teen drivers.

TIP:  If these statistics are startling to you, Distracted Driving Awareness month is every April. Consider taking next April to learn more about this rapidly growing epidemic that is threatening our roads, streets, freeways, and highways.

Distracted Driving vs. Drunk Driving: Which is More Dangerous?

The following data might surprise you.

 ➡ Loss of Life:

Drunk, drugged, impaired driving claims approximately 30 lives per day, more than 10,000 per year. Distracted driving claims 10 lives per day, approximately 3,500 per year.

Economic Impact:

Distracted driving costs society $40 billion a year. DUIs cost $44 billion per year.

Violations by State:

Only 47 states have laws against distracted driving, while 16 states have specific laws against texting and driving, implementing a texting ban.

All 50 states have laws against drunk driving (driving under the influence). Law enforcement knows how to identify a drunk/impaired driver.

Legal Fines:

Drivers can receive a fine of up to $500 for a distracted driving offense. Drivers receive a fine of $1,500 for their first DUI.


  • Nearly 4,000 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015.
  • Distracted driving was the reported cause of death of 3,450 people in 2016.
  • An estimated 391,000 drivers were injured in distracted driving crashes in 2017. (For comparison, there were 39,773 gun deaths in the United States in 2017.)
  • In 2019, distracted driving was a reported factor in 8.5% of fatal motor vehicle crashes.


How does a distracted driving ticket impact car insurance rates?

  • In 2011, a distracted driving violation raised a driver’s car insurance rates by less than 5%, equating to less than $3 per year in extra premiums. Eight years later, the same violation could raise a driver’s insurance rates by $290 annually.
  • While most states have passed anti-distracted driving laws to penalize drivers for distracted driving, these insurance rate penalties range from $87 in some states to $762 in others.
  • Vermont’s auto insurers apply the harshest insurance penalty for distracted driving, with a 56% premium increase (more than $600 per year).
  • New York has the most lenient distracted driving penalty; a distracted driving violation increases insurance rates for New York state drivers by just 5%.
  • A recent study found drivers use their smartphones and hands-free devices during 9 out of every 10 trips, spending 3.5 minutes of every driving hour on the phone.

Prevention: What is Being Done?

Many states are enacting laws, such as banning texting while driving, or using graduated driver licensing systems for teen drivers. The goal is to help raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and to help prevent it from occurring. However, the effectiveness of cell phone and texting laws on decreasing distracted driving-related crashes requires further study. (The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety keeps track of distracted driving laws.)

  • As of March 2019, 16 states and the District of Columbia had banned drivers from hand-held phone use.
  • As of March 2019, texting while driving is banned in 47 states and the District of Columbia. Two additional states ban texting while driving for new drivers. Some local governments also have bans on cell phone use and texting while driving.

Federal Government

  • On September 30, 2009, President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting federal employees from texting while driving on government business or with government equipment.
  • On September 17, 2010, the Federal Railroad Administration banned cell phone and electronic device use of employees on the job.
  • On October 27, 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration enacted a ban that prohibits commercial vehicle drivers from texting while driving.
  • In 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration banned all hand-held cell phone use by commercial drivers and drivers carrying hazardous materials.
  • From 2010 to 2013, NHTSA evaluated the Distracted Driving Demonstration Projects. These projects increased police enforcement of distracted driving laws and increased awareness of distracted driving using radio advertisements, news stories, and similar media.
  • After the projects were complete, observed driver cell phone use fell from 4.1% to 2.7% in California, 6.8% to 2.9% in Connecticut, 4.5% to 3.0% in Delaware, and 3.7% to 2.5% in New York.
  • In April of 2014, NHTSA began their annual “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.
  • NHTSA provides campaign materials for state and local law enforcement:
  • NHTSA Enforcement Campaign Resources, such as Products for Enforcement Action Kit (PEAK), are available at www.trafficsafetymarketing.com

Article Sources:
CDC, The Zebra

Additional Resources and Related Pages:

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