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Distracted Driving Statistics and Research (Updated 2021)

Driving is a serious task that must be handled as such. Operating a vehicle is a big responsibility. When driving, you not only have the lives of your passengers in your hands, but you also have a responsibility to prevent the injury of anyone else on the road.

But despite how serious driving is, humans aren’t perfect, and distractions can easily arise. A driver is always threatened by a series of things trying to draw their focus off the road in front of them. Maybe it comes in the form of a loud passenger or spilling a cup of coffee.

Whatever it is, distracted driving can lead to some unfortunate circumstances, and the statistics prove it. This piece aims to discuss the various types of distracted driving, highlight awareness for its frequency, and offer you a reminder on how to be a smarter driver. Rejecting little distractions and staying focus can not only prevent you from receiving a traffic violation but also save lives.

What is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving refers to any non-driving-related activity a driver engages in that takes their attention off of the road. This can refer to anything from something as extreme as texting while driving to seemingly minor actions like checking your mirror. More examples and situations will be explored further, but that is just a general grasp of the concept of distracted driving.

This behavior is pretty common. In fact, you can probably think of a number of ways you fell victim to distracted driving just recently. If you reached over to grab your purse or looked at a passer-by on the sidewalk, that’s distracted driving. Even just turning up your music is considered a distraction.

Types of Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is anything that causes you to take your hands off the wheel and eyes off the road. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified three different types of distractions when it comes to driving:

  • Manual - Manual distractions refer to anything that forces you to physically take your hands off the wheels.
  • Visual - Visual is when something catches your eye, and you lose focus of the road in front of you.
  • Cognitive - Cognitive distractions are anything that shifts your mental focus off of driving.

Auditory is another type of distraction, but that is typically considered to fall under cognitive. Auditory distractions refer to any kind of sound that takes your focus off of driving.

Beyond Texting: Distractions Are Everywhere

Typically when discussing distracted driving, the topic focuses on texting and driving. While that is arguably the most common form of distracted driving, it is by no means the only one. Outlined below are some common distractions you may have even fallen victim to while driving.

  • Eating - This is a pretty regular occurrence in drivers. According to a 2021 study done by The Zebra, over 50% of respondents admitted to eating while driving. It may not seem like a problem but anything that takes your attention away from the road will always be an issue with consequences.
  • Inputting directions on a GPS - The laws surrounding the usage of a navigational system of GPS can vary based on the state you live in. But whatever the legal repercussions are, it is best to set up your GPS before a trip. This way, you are not concerned with the device.
  • Drinking coffee - Much like eating, drinking coffee while driving is a very common habit that people never think much about. However, fiddling around trying to grab your cup of coffee can force your attention off the road. You also run the risk of spilling it, which can cause even more issues for you.
  • Too many passengers - The people you invite in your car can be distractions of their own. With more people comes more conversations leading to your focus shifting from the road to your friends. It is best to keep the number of passengers in your car to a minimum, especially if you are a new driver.
  • Tending to your children - This one is very similar to the previous point except for the fact it is harder to control. If you have three children and you need to drive them all somewhere, you cannot exactly limit how many are in the car with you. It is still best to be extra cautious when you have children in the car while driving. If they are in need of something, you are better off pulling off the road than trying to handle the situation while driving.
  • Applying makeup - According to The Zebra 2021 study referenced in a previous section, 6.5% of people surveyed admitted to applying makeup while driving. People try to cut corners when they are in a hurry, but these alleged “time savers” can have detrimental consequences.
  • Checking mirrors - Checking your rearview mirror is a natural part of driving but do not get too focused on it. Even just a quick glance takes your focus off the road in front of you. Be mindful when checking your mirrors.
  • Learning a new car system - Getting a new car is exciting. With such technological advancements in cars today, drivers can be eager to test out all the new features but try to keep it to when you are off the road. Fiddling with buttons and screens is never a good idea while driving.
  • Paying attention to pets - Your furry friends can be quite the little rascals when it comes to driving. Pets like dogs love to hop from the back seat to the front and stick their head out the windows. This typically isn’t an issue unless it turns out to be gravely distracting. If your pet needs your attention, it is best to pull off the road and attend to them there.
  • Drowsiness - While this is not an outside force coming to distract you, it still poses the same threat as the others listed above do. You should never drive when tired or drowsy. Driving requires your full attention. If it is getting late or you just got a poor sleep the night before, try postponing driving.

Distracted Driving Accidents Happen Fast

According to AAA, taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of getting into a car accident. Once you’re distracted, it takes just mere moments for a crash to occur. To put this danger into perspective, programming a car’s built-in navigational system takes drivers, on average, 40 seconds to complete. That is a lot of time for something bad to happen. Even after the distraction is gone, it still takes your brain a few seconds to refocus and become aware of what is going on around you. Taking your eyes off the road just for a “second” isn’t just a second as it certainly leaves enough time for tragedy to strike.

Who is at Risk For Distracted Driving?

Your age is one of the major factors when it comes to being at-risk for distracted driving. Generally, younger people are more susceptible to distractions while driving, and the statistics show for it. In 2018, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 25% of distracted drivers involved in a fatal car accident were of the ages 20-29. It has also been found that teens ages 15-19 were more likely to be distracted while driving than those of older age.

Another factor that can cause someone to run the risk of being a distracted driver is the number of passengers in their car. As mentioned briefly in a previous section, the number of passengers in your car may cause serious issues for you as a driver. Research has shown that when limited, the number of passengers for those such as young drivers can reduce the risk of crashes. The presence of children in the car can also pose some problems.

Despite all this, it is very important to note that anyone can fall for distracted driving. No one is immune to temptations. What has been highlighted here are just the most common factors that increase your chances of being distracted. Even if these do not apply to you, there is still a plethora of things that can pull your attention away from the road. Always stay vigilant and aware when driving to minimize your chances of causing a potentially fatal accident.

Distracted Driving Statistics

Now that we have established what distracted driving is, it may be helpful to put this concept into perspective with some distracted driving statistics. Explored below is a closer look into the driving statistics and what the threat distracted driving poses to both those on and off of the road.

Around 90% of car crashes involve human error.

According to comparison research done by The Center of Internet and Society, practically all (90%) of car accidents are caused partially by “human error.” Human error refers to mistakes a person makes. In terms of car crashes, human error can refer to someone who was looking at their cell phone or reaching for an item which then caused them to end up in a collision with another car. Distracted driving is a major cause of car crashes and it is, for the most part, preventable.

Parents driving children are more likely to be distracted than those without.

From a 2019 study done by The Zebra, they found that those with young children were more likely to be distracted than adults without. This fact is a tricky one. As a parent, you sometimes have no choice but to drive with your children, making them a distraction that is hard to prevent. If someone in your car is in need of something, find a safe place to park before tending to them. The issue can then be resolved, and all your senses will be back focused on the road.

Eating while driving causes 2% of reported distracted driving car crashes.

Eating or non-alcoholic drinking while driving may just be second nature to some drivers but it can have some damaging consequences. The act of eating or drinking still takes your focus off the road, even if just for a second or two. Beverages also pose the risk of being spilled, which can send any driver into a bit of a panic. It is just our natural response. For these reasons and others, it is best to have your meals at a table -not behind the wheel of a car.

Reaching for an item increases your chances of an accident by eight times.

An innocent action can turn deadly. Reaching around your car for an object can cause crashes within seconds. Not only does the act take a hand off the wheel, your eyes and brain may also now be distracted. Even if your eyes are physically on the road, your mental focus has abandoned the act of driving. If it is an emergency, pull over. If not, wait until you are home to retrieve whatever it is that you need.

87% of rear-end collisions stemmed in some way from distracted driving

According to the NHTSA, a majority of rear-ended accidents have been related to distracted driving, in some fashion. This is not very hard to imagine. If your mind and eyes are somewhere else, you are certainly not aware of what is in front of you.

Teen Distracted Driving Statistics

As we have touched on briefly, teenage drivers can be more susceptible to distracted driving. This can be due to the fact that they have less experience on the road, causing their mind to sometimes just wander on accidentally. Outlined below is a look into the potential dangers teens face when they get behind the wheel of a car.

White students are 44% more likely to drive distracted.

Compared to Black and Hispanic students, white students are 44% more likely to engage in distracted driving, according to the CDC. But this does not mean anyone is immune to distracted driving. Black students, according to the report, drive distracted 30% of the time while Hispanic students do so 35% of the time.

Newer drivers are prone to distractions.

As we have stressed in previous sections, newer drivers are more prone to the various distractions of the world. Drivers have a lot to keep track of. The seemingly simple act of driving can be a bit overwhelming, so it is no surprise that drivers who are just starting out succumb to distractions.

Distractions were involved in around 58% of teen driver accidents.

According to the AAA Foundation, after their analysis of dash-cam videos, they found that more than half of teen car crashes involved some level of distracted driving. From this statistic alone, you can see how common of an occurrence distracted driving accidents are among teens.

Adding one passenger increases the chances of a crash by two times.

Adding just one extra person to your car as a teen driver increases your chance of getting into an accident by two times, according to a poll from AAA. Chances of a car accident then continue to increase as you add more people to your car. One person alone can create enough distractions, but a whole car full of people can be detrimental when you are a young driver. Stay vigilant when driving your friends. Some states even have laws on how many people you can have in the car for the first year after getting your license.

Driving Distracted: The Statistics Over The Years

Distracted driving accidents have seemingly increased over the years. According to a table from Bankrate that utilizes NHTSA data, in 2019, there was a reported 986,000 distracted driving accidents. This was an alarming number compared to 2011 when there were reportedly 826,000 distracted driving accidents. But it is also worth noting that, according to this comparison table, the number of accidents has fluctuated over time. The reported number in 2011 was a decrease from 2010, but accidents then spiked again in 2012.

Deaths from distracted driving have also shown a unique pattern, according to the data from NHTSA. From 2010-2019, there was on average 3,000 a death per year as a result of distracted driving. But, like the accidents statistics, there was no gradual trend. 2012 saw nearly 3,100 deaths from distracted driving, but 2013 saw just around 2,900. While it seemed to decrease, the number of deaths increased in 2014 and there on until 2018 where it dipped.

But no matter how much the statistics fluctuate, it is clear that distracted driving is not going away. One death from the irresponsible actions of a distracted driver is still one too many.

The Statistics Don’t Lie: Distracted Driving is a Serious Problem.

So far, this piece has stressed how serious and harmful distracted driving can be, but you are probably wondering how common it really is. According to driver training company Smith System, around 2.5 million people each year are involved in car accidents, and distracted driving is the leading cause. It is estimated that every day 1,000 people are injured by a driver distracted by some capacity. Some statistics from DMV.org even find that nine people die every day in America as a result of distracted driving. Needless to say, this is a serious issue among drivers, and it has very real consequences that can follow. Distracted driving crashes as a whole have slowly been on a steady rise for quite some time now, so it is always best you stay aware and focused when on the road.

Consequences of Distracted Driving

The consequences of distracted driving are ones that can vary. At the very least, you can be hit with a fine, some jail time, and an increase in your car insurance premiums. How severe these penalties can be is based on what state you live in and what kind of violation you are charged with. In Illinois, for example, usage of a handheld device while driving can lead to thousands of dollars in fines and numerous points being added to your driving record. You also run the risk of having your license suspended and doing some time in jail.

But those penalties are, arguably, on the more lenient side. Distracted driving can lead to more severe consequences such as death or injury to another person. Taking your attention off the road in any capacity can lead to life-changing and ending incidents. Serious charges can follow, making you almost wish you had just been hit with a fine and license suspension. Distracted driving takes the lives of so many innocent people every year.

Distracted Driving Fatalities Statistics

As previously mentioned, distracted driving can have fatal consequences for both you and others. According to the NHTSA, in 2019, distracted driving claimed the lives of over 3,100 people. Around one in five people killed in a distracted driving crash in 2018 weren’t even driving, according to the CDC. Distracted driving is clearly not just a problem for those on the road. It is also a severe threat to people just going about their day elsewhere. Distracted driving was responsible for 8% of all fatal car crashes in 2018, according to the NHTSA.

Distracted Driving And Insurance Premiums

Any sort of driving violation will raise insurance premiums. The type you are charged can affect just how much those premiums go up. For example, a distracted driving conviction due to drinking while under the influence can raise your insurance premiums much more than a speeding violation. Distracted driving has caused insurance premiums to increase by over 16%, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Insurance Premiums by State

The state you live in can have an impact on your insurance rates following a distracted driving violation. Some states are simply stricter than others when it comes to raising insurance rates after such convictions. Insurance premium penalties across the country can range from $80 to $700.

Vermont imposes pretty harsh penalties with insurance premium rates increasing by 56% after a distracted driving violation. That can be about $600 more you’d pay per year in Vermont. New York has a more lenient penalty for drivers with annual insurance premiums in the state only increasing by 5% after a distracted driving violation.

Driving Distraction-Free

While it is true distractions are everywhere, you can try your best to drive distraction-free. Outlined below are some simple, easy steps you can take to make sure you are being a safer driver.

  • Hide your cell phone - If you’re someone who just can’t resist your cell phone while driving, hide it by stowing it away in the backseat or your glovebox. When it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. You won’t be as inclined to do any texting or answer phone calls. And if your cell phone is connected to your car via Bluetooth, it would be even more helpful to disconnect it. Some cars alert you of incoming phone calls, and they can be tempting to answer.
  • Turn down the music - Music can be a cognitive and auditory distraction when driving, especially if it is being played very loudly. While it is very tempting to want to jam out to your favorite song while driving down the freeway, it is also very dangerous. You don’t have to drive in complete silence to be a safe driver but just be mindful of the radio.
  • Remember who is watching - Not only can you actively be a safe driver, but you can also help influence the next generation of safe drivers. If you have young children or teenagers who just started driving, know that they are watching you very carefully as you drive. When they see you do something, they are more likely to copy it, so being cautious encourages them to do the same.
  • Apps to encourage smarter driving - Your cell phone’s app store may be key to helping you ignore your phone while driving if that is of great concern for you. Some apps available for download can be enacted while driving, and they work to silence incoming text messages. They may even reward you for avoiding your cell phone while driving. Newer cell phones also sometimes have an auto-reply feature to help let your corespondents know you will get back to them in a moment.
  • Assign a texter - Sometimes, you are in certain situations where you need to contact friends or families. If you find yourself in this position while driving, it is best to assign phone duties to someone in the car. Passing your cell phone off to your passenger(s) eliminates the distraction from your immediate surroundings. If there is no one to take on this role, pull off to the side of the road or wait until you are at your destination. Whatever seems so important can most likely wait.