Distracted Driving

In 2019, 3,142 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a nearly ten-percent increase from 2018.  This accounts for 8.7 percent of fatalities on U.S. roads in 2019.  In 2018, the most recent year for which injury data is available, there were an estimated 400,000 people injured in distraction-affected crashes. Moreover, crashes in which at least one driver was identified as being distracted imposed an economic cost of $40 billion dollars in 2010.  Adjusted for inflation only, that amounts to $48 billion in 2021 dollars.

However, issues with underreporting crashes involving cell phones remain because of differences in police crash report coding, database limitations, and other challenges.  It is clear from an increasing body of safety research, studies and data that the use of electronic devices for telecommunications (such as mobile phones and text messaging), telematics and entertainment can readily distract drivers from the driving task.

Currently, forty-six states (AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, and WY) and the District of Columbia have a primary law banning text messaging for all drivers. In order to get people to pay attention while operating a vehicle and to adopt safer behaviors, education must be combined with strong laws and appropriate enforcement. This is the tried and true method to change behavior in order to improve safety

Distracted Driving Facts

  • Research has shown that because of the degree of cognitive distraction these devices cause, the behavior of drivers using mobile phones (whether hand-held or hands-free) is equivalent to the behavior of drivers at the threshold of the legal limit for alcohol (0.08 blood alcohol concentration).
  • Crash risk increases dramatically – as much as four times higher – when a driver is using a mobile phone, with no significant safety difference between hand-held and hands-free phones observed in many studies.
  • A 2009 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that text messaging increased the risk of a safety-critical driving event by 23.2 times.
  • Ten percent of fatal crashes, eighteen percent of injury crashes, and sixteen percent of all motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2013 were reported as distraction-affected crashes.
  • In 2018 there were 2 trillion text and multimedia messages sent or received in the U.S
  • Eight percent of all drivers 15-19 years old involved in a fatal crash were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers involved in fatal crashes who were distracted.
  • Sending or receiving a text message causes the driver’s eyes to be off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. When driving 55 miles per hour, this is the equivalent of driving the entire length of a football field blind.
  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the percentage of drivers holding cell phones to their ears while driving was just over three percent in 2018. This rate translates into 470,000 passenger vehicles driven by people using hand-held cell phones at a typical daylight moment in 2018.
  • According to the NHTSA, the percentage of drivers visibly manipulating hand-held devices while driving has increased for the fourth year in a row with a total increase of 250 percent between 2009 and 2018.

For a full list of citations, please download our Distracted Driving Fact Sheet.