While people universally understand the risks of sleeping, drinking or using drugs and driving, many are much less concerned about the consequences of texting or talking on the phone while behind the wheel. However, distracted driving can be just as harmful as driving while tired or intoxicated.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of driving fatalities increased by 8.4 percent in 2015 and by 5.6 percent in 2016. This type of back-to-back increase hasn’t been seen since the mid-1960s. In total, there were 37,461 driving deaths in 2016.1
Surprisingly, the percent of distraction-affected fatalities decreased by 2.2 percent in 2016. However, distracted driving was still responsible for 9.2 percent of all fatalities. This means 3,450 deaths were at least partially attributable to distracted driving in 2016.1
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 81.1 percent of drivers surveyed in 2016 felt that texting or emailing while driving was a serious threat to their safety, with 88.4 even supporting an outright texting ban. However, 40.2 percent of these same drivers admitted to reading an email or text and 31.4 percent confessed to typing out an email or text while driving in the past month.2
AAA found that more than two-thirds of surveyed drivers admitted to recently talking on their cell phone while driving.2 Esurance’s survey results were slightly different, with 59 percent of rarely distracted drivers and 93 percent of distracted drivers admitting to chatting on the phone.3 Though most people believe hands-free phones are safer, both handheld and hands-free phones can cause significant distraction while driving.
In 2017, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety tested the visual and cognitive demand required to use 30 new car models’ infotainment systems, with higher demand corresponding to increased distraction and poorer driving safety. Alarmingly, they found that 12 car systems were very high demand, 11 were high demand and 7 were moderate demand. None of the cars’ infotainment systems had adequately low levels of distraction.4
In that same study, AAA found that setting up GPS navigation took a startling 40 seconds of a driver’s time and attention.4 The previously cited Esurance study found that most people view a GPS navigation system while driving, whether they are a self-identified distracted driver (96 percent) or a rarely distracted driver (77 percent).3
Young drivers were disproportionately involved in 2015 fatal distraction-affected crashes. Although teens age 15 to 19 represented just seven percent of total drivers, they made up nine percent of distracted drivers and 14 percent of drivers using a cell phone during a fatal crash.5
Distracted driving legislation is enacted at the state level. As of March 2018, 15 states and D.C. ban all drivers from talking on a hand-held phone and driving. By contrast, all states and D.C. have a full ban against texting and driving except Arizona and Montana, which have no ban, and Missouri, which only bans those 21 and younger. Thirty-eight states and D.C. also restrict cellphone use for new drivers in some way.6