Here’s what you need to know:
- In 2018, distracted driving accounted for 2,724 fatal crashes
- Teenage distracted driving accounted for 11.5 percent of those fatal crashes
- Drivers aged 65 or older accounted for nearly 24 percent of total fatalities
Imagine this. You’re driving on the highway when you pass a sign displaying the speed limit is 60 miles per hour. Suddenly, you come up to a car going about 20 under that. Once you finally get past them, you look over your shoulder to see that they’re not even looking.
They don’t notice you’re extremely annoyed at them. In fact, they’re not noticing much of anything and aren’t looking at the road at all. Their eyes are on an object in their hands, and they’re typing away.
We’ve all seen texting and driving before and have heard the statistics — 3,000 or more people die from distracted driving every year.
The undeniable truth, it’s a deadly issue. We needed to find out: Where are the most distracted drivers by state?
That’s what our researchers aimed to answer. We compiled nearly 8,000 data points related to distracted driving — everything from the number of fatal crashes involving distracted driving per state to which races were most associated with these crashes.
Remember, almost as important as never driving distracted, is never driving without insurance. Our free car insurance quote tool makes it easy to compare several of the best policies in your area.
- Worst 10 States for Distracted Driving
- Free Car Insurance Comparison
- Distracted Driving Among Teens & Elderly in the 10 Worst States
- How did all states do with distracted driving?
- Distracted Driving Among Teens & Elderly in ALL States
- Distracted Driving Statistics by Race
- What the Experts Have to Say
- The Final Word on Distracted Driving
Worst 10 States for Distracted Driving
It’s a beauty pageant gone wrong for these bottom 10, as distracted driving caused the highest percentage of fatal crashes for these states, which have average car insurance rates between $900 and $1,970. They are all over the country, from the South to the Northeast, from the West to the Midwest. But first let’s take a look at what causes distracted driving, particularly with cellphones.
In the end, it all starts with dopamine. The same chemical that is responsible for good feelings after exercise is triggered when we receive that ding! from our cellphones. It does this when we wake up in the morning, when we go to sleep at night, and, yes, when we drive.
For more explanation about dopamine’s effects on the body, here’s a short video from Body Hub.
This may be a primary cause of the over 3,000 deaths and 2,700 fatal crashes caused by distracted driving in 2018, according to our statistics derived from data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
As the American Safety Council wrote in 2016:
“It’s believed that small chemical change impairs our judgment, almost like a drug, and overrides the known dangers of texting while driving. As a result, people are still willing to type out those texts despite understanding the dangers.”
It is also known to be implicated in addictions in general, from gambling addiction to alcohol addiction. It may be the reason for the cause of over 3,000 distracted driving deaths per year. According to David Greenfield, the founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, without dopamine and the reward center in the brain it stimulates, we probably wouldn’t have survived as a species.
However, as seen with distracted driving, it presents deadly consequences in the wrong circumstances. This is because the reward center, when stimulated, shuts down the part of the brain that controls logic and reason. This may lead to a lack of cognition about the consequences of an action, such as texting while driving a 5,000-pound vehicle at high speeds.
That, in turn, leads to accidents and deaths. But distracted driving is not limited to cellphones.
Turning your head to talk to another passenger, putting on makeup, yelling at your kids in the backseat, or even fiddling with the radio are all considered forms of distracted driving.
Cellphones, however, are the main culprit. Below with our experts, we’ll cover advancements in public policy and technology to combat this issue.
#10 – New York
Welcome to the Empire State. You’re greeted by the Adirondack Mountains, the pristine driving country of upstate, and the Statue of Liberty. What you might be surprised to be greeted by that poses a great deal to your sense of safety: distracted driving.
New York, whose cheapest car insurance provider is Geico, had a total of 1,557 fatal crashes in 2018. Ninety-six, or 7.5 percent, were caused by distracted driving. Ironically, the state has been leading the charge against using cellphones while driving, issuing the first state-wide handheld cellphone ban in 2001.
New York’s fight against distracted driving continued to grow throughout the years, as covered in this story by the New York Times.
They added additional penalties in 2014-2015, adding to the dollar amount of the fine and revocations and suspensions of licenses for those carrying intermediate licenses and learner’s permits. Youth have been especially targeted, as fines for those on junior licenses are more stringent than the norm.
Distracted driving is the fifth-leading cause of fatal crashes in New York, according to statistics derived from the 2018 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
|Factors||Fatal Crashes||% of Fatal Crashes|
|Driving Too Fast For Conditions Or In Excess Of Posted Limit||236||18.5%|
|Under The Influence Of Alcohol, Drugs, Or Medication||106||8.3%|
|Failure To Keep In Proper Lane||100||7.8%|
|Failure To Yield Right Of Way||117||9.1%|
|Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||96||7.5%|
|Operating Vehicle In A Careless Manner||1||0.1%|
|Failure To Obey Traffic Signs,Signals, Or Officer||44||3.4%|
|Swerving Or Avoiding Due To Wind, Slippery Surface, Object In Roadway, Etc.||37||2.9%|
|Vision Obscured (Rain, Snow, Glare, Lights, Building, Trees, Etc.)||40||3.1%|
|Drowsy, Asleep, Fatigued, Ill, Or Blackout||54||4.2%|
|Driving Wrong Way On One-Way Trafficway Or Wrong Side Of Road||8||0.6%|
|Making Improper Turn||15||1.2%|
It’s behind speeding, failure to yield right of way, being under the influence, and failure to keep in the proper lane.
This prominence within the top five of fatal crash causes has led to crackdowns and operations aimed at finding or deterring distracted drivers.
Of one such operation in 2017, Governor Cuomo noted:
“Distracted driving is dangerous and illegal, and with this crackdown, we are once again sending the message that making calls or texting behind the wheel will not be tolerated in New York. State Police and local law enforcement will be out in force to ensure our roadways are safe, and I urge all drivers to act responsibly and put their devices down to prevent tragedy and heartbreak.”
Overall, with the crackdowns, operations, stringent penalties, and public service announcements, let’s hope that the number of New York fatal crashes drops and that it moves out of the top 10.
#9 – Idaho
Idaho, the great state of the potato, is ninth on this list. Although it only boasts 1.75 million people, it was home to 24 distracted driver crashes in 2018, for a percentage total of 7.6. It’s a big problem, and everyone seems to recognize it in Idaho. But what are they doing about it?
Idaho has some of the lightest restrictions on cellphone usage in the country. While texting and driving is banned—although the first offense fine is $81.50, a paltry sum compared to other states — there is no statewide handheld ban. However, a handheld ban bill was introduced in January 2020.
Some state officials have resisted implementing a statewide ban due to the rural geography of parts of Idaho. As reported in the Idaho Press, Joe Palmer, a representative from Meridian, said in January
“I don’t believe an all-out ban is necessary because we have a lot of rural areas. But I certainly think it’s not safe when you’re in traffic to use a cellphone.”
As recently as last year, rural senators killed legislation that would have required all Idaho drivers to use hands-free technology to make cellphone calls while driving, presumably because driving is safer and easier in rural areas, though numbers about roadway departures and single-vehicle collisions dispute that.
Some cities have adopted their own handheld bans without waiting for the state government. These include Blaine County, Ketchum, Haikey, Sandpoint, Pocatello, Idaho Falls, and Palmer’s own town of Meridian. Idaho does have a law prohibiting inattentive driving, which has penalties steeper than texting and driving.
The inattentive driving law covers situations where your behavior causes you to drive the car recklessly or without care. It’s similar to reckless driving — and even included in the same State of Idaho Legislature chapter — but is a lesser offense.
The Legislature writes:
“Every person convicted of inattentive driving under this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and may be sentenced to jail for not more than ninety (90) days or may be fined not more than three hundred dollars ($300), or may be punished by both fine and imprisonment.”
The situation might be that you’re texting and driving but you’re controlling the vehicle. If you’re caught, that’s your only offense. But if you start to veer in and out of lanes, you might be charged with inattentive driving. The penalties are significant, even more so than if you’re caught driving without insurance. In that case, you might be labeled a high-risk driver and face insurance penalties.
Overall, distracted driving is the fifth-leading cause of fatal accidents in Idaho, behind being under the influence, speeding, failure to keep in the proper lane, and failure to yield right of way.
|Factors||Fatal Crashes||% of Fatal Crashes|
|Driving Too Fast For Conditions Or In Excess Of Posted Limit||45||14.3%|
|Under The Influence Of Alcohol, Drugs, Or Medication||60||19.0%|
|Failure To Keep In Proper Lane||27||8.6%|
|Failure To Yield Right Of Way||26||8.3%|
|Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||24||7.6%|
|Operating Vehicle In A Careless Manner||2||0.6%|
|Failure To Obey Traffic Signs,Signals, Or Officer||10||3.2%|
|Operating Vehicle In Erratic, Reckless, Careless, Or Negligent Manner||18||5.7%|
|Swerving Or Avoiding Due To Wind, Slippery Surface, Object In Roadway, Etc.||3||1.0%|
|Vision Obscured (Rain, Snow, Glare, Lights, Building, Trees, Etc.)||4||1.3%|
|Drowsy, Asleep, Fatigued, Ill, Or Blackout||10||3.2%|
|Driving Wrong Way On One-Way Trafficway Or Wrong Side Of Road||2||0.6%|
|Making Improper Turn||3||1.0%|
Much of the information when it comes to politics and policy in this section is recent. New developments are soon to be on the way, most likely.
#8 – Massachusetts
Clam chowder and the Boston Celtics. The Boston Tea Party and Johnny Appleseed. Massachusetts has a little bit of everything, from culture to sports to history to education (hello, MIT and Harvard). It also shares the same problem that most states in America have — distracted driving.
Massachusetts is eighth on the list of worst states for distracted driving, with 39 fatal crashes in 2018, accounting for 8 percent of the overall total. Distracted driving is the third-leading cause of fatal crashes, behind speeding and operating a vehicle in a reckless or negligent manner.
|Factors||Fatal Crashes||% of Fatal Crashes|
|Driving Too Fast For Conditions Or In Excess Of Posted Limit||88||18.0%|
|Under The Influence Of Alcohol, Drugs, Or Medication||37||7.6%|
|Failure To Keep In Proper Lane||24||4.9%|
|Failure To Yield Right Of Way||25||5.1%|
|Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||39||8.0%|
|Failure To Obey Traffic Signs,Signals, Or Officer||16||3.3%|
|Operating Vehicle In Erratic, Reckless, Careless, Or Negligent Manner||55||11.3%|
|Swerving Or Avoiding Due To Wind, Slippery Surface, Object In Roadway, Etc.||7||1.4%|
|Vision Obscured (Rain, Snow, Glare, Lights, Building, Trees, Etc.)||18||3.7%|
|Drowsy, Asleep, Fatigued, Ill, Or Blackout||19||3.9%|
|Driving Wrong Way On One-Way Trafficway Or Wrong Side Of Road||17||3.5%|
|Making Improper Turn||1||0.2%|
So what are citizens of the Commonwealth trying to do about this problem? In fact, quite a lot. Like a person trying to get a car accident off their driving record, the great state of Massachusetts has tried quite a bit to combat the distracted driving issue.
It has had a safe driving law since 2010, where it banned texting and driving along with all handheld cellphone use by junior operators (drivers between 16.5 and 18 years of age). But, as Mass.gov notes, that didn’t stop the rise in distracted driving deaths.
In 2019, the Massachusetts government had other plans. On November 25, Governor Charlie Baker signed into law a full handheld device ban, bringing Massachusetts in line with its Northeast region neighbors and 21 total states around the country. WMCT News has this breakdown of the new bill.
The law, according to MassLive.com, prohibits:
“. . . drivers from holding a phone for any reason, other than in an emergency. Calls can be made in hands-free mode. Drivers will not be allowed to look at text, videos or images on an electronic device while driving, other than a map or navigation system on a device mounted on a console or dashboard.”
Governor Baker said at the signing:
“Operators driving a car should not be holding a phone to text, check social media or email. When a driver on an electronic device hits something or someone, that’s not an accident. It’s a crash that was avoidable.”
The new law, which is a big win like getting car insurance without a credit check, goes into effect February 23, 2020. There’s hope that, like the operations in New York, this law will decrease the number of distracted driver crashes and fatalities in Massachusetts.
#7 – Louisiana
The land of gumbo and the most recent NCAA football champions boasts many things, positive and negative, about cars, driving habits, and car insurance. It is consistently ranked highly among states with the worst drivers, so it should come as no surprise that Louisiana is one of the leaders in distracted driving-caused crashes.
But how bad? In 2017, its top official in the state highway safety department labeled distracted driving “a dangerous epidemic.” The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission notes that 192 people were killed in distracted driving-related accidents from 2011 to 2015, with another 27,000 injured.
Our analysis does little to disprove those claims. If anything, those claims appear bolstered. Louisiana is ranked number seven on this list, with 109 distracted driving-led fatal crashes in 2018. That’s even as state departments try to cut down on distracted driving accidents.
Percentage-wise, distracted driving was the third-leading cause of fatal crashes behind speeding and driving a vehicle in a careless manner. It accounted for 10.2 percent of fatal crashes overall for a total of 109 crashes. It is far and away the third-leading category, with driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication next at 6.1 percent.
|Factors||Fatal Crashes||% of Fatal Crashes|
|Driving Too Fast For Conditions Or In Excess Of Posted Limit||121||11.4%|
|Under The Influence Of Alcohol, Drugs, Or Medication||65||6.1%|
|Failure To Keep In Proper Lane||56||5.3%|
|Failure To Yield Right Of Way||60||5.6%|
|Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||109||10.2%|
|Operating Vehicle In A Careless Manner||112||10.5%|
|Failure To Obey Traffic Signs,Signals, Or Officer||29||2.7%|
|Operating Vehicle In Erratic, Reckless, Careless, Or Negligent Manner||20||1.9%|
|Swerving Or Avoiding Due To Wind, Slippery Surface, Object In Roadway, Etc.||12||1.1%|
|Vision Obscured (Rain, Snow, Glare, Lights, Building, Trees, Etc.)||44||4.1%|
|Drowsy, Asleep, Fatigued, Ill, Or Blackout||21||2.0%|
|Driving Wrong Way On One-Way Trafficway Or Wrong Side Of Road||49||4.6%|
|Making Improper Turn||15||1.4%|
Louisiana has enacted several measures to curb this behavior, including raising fines for texting and driving to $500 for a first offense, one of the highest numbers in the country. It has also issued an educational guide about the dangers of distracted driving.
For the past decade, several bills have been drafted to ban handheld use of cellphones in cars altogether, with each being shot down in either the Senate or the House.
The most recent one was dismissed in early 2019 by a 49-45 vote. Although it had been overwhelmingly approved in the House Transportation Committee, some lawmakers had reservations about the bill being a hardship to drivers.
As reported in The Advocate, State Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, said it would be difficult for someone traveling to and from Baton Rouge “and not be able to communicate back and forth with your office.”
Although the bill’s sponsor noted that a driver would still be able to use Bluetooth and other network connectivity devices, the issue of hardship has played a role in Louisiana. As a local law firm notes, a similar bill in 2019 was dismissed in the Senate after some raised concerns that poorer communities wouldn’t be able to afford advanced technology.
It’s a hot-button issue in Louisiana and rightly so.
#6 – Kentucky
Kentucky, the land of bluegrass, where bourbon flows and horses race for a chance, just a chance at glory. It has a bit of an old feel to it, from the landscape to the activities. However, there is one thing it has very much in common with the rest of the states in this list: a problem with distracted driving.
But in Kentucky, it is much worse. How much so? In 2014, there were over 53,000 crashes due to distracted driving, resulting in 14,000 injuries and 169 deaths.
Our research suggests that not much has changed. There were 121 distracted driving-related fatal crashes in 2018 in Kentucky. At 11.8 percent, distracted driving is the leading cause of fatal crashes in the state.
|Factors||Fatal Crashes||% of Fatal Crashes|
|Driving Too Fast For Conditions Or In Excess Of Posted Limit||97||9.4%|
|Under The Influence Of Alcohol, Drugs, Or Medication||98||9.5%|
|Failure To Keep In Proper Lane||57||5.5%|
|Failure To Yield Right Of Way||64||6.2%|
|Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||121||11.8%|
|Operating Vehicle In A Careless Manner||1||0.1%|
|Failure To Obey Traffic Signs,Signals, Or Officer||27||2.6%|
|Operating Vehicle In Erratic, Reckless, Careless, Or Negligent Manner||2||0.2%|
|Swerving Or Avoiding Due To Wind, Slippery Surface, Object In Roadway, Etc.||100||9.7%|
|Vision Obscured (Rain, Snow, Glare, Lights, Building, Trees, Etc.)||33||3.2%|
|Drowsy, Asleep, Fatigued, Ill, Or Blackout||38||3.7%|
|Driving Wrong Way On One-Way Trafficway Or Wrong Side Of Road||7||0.7%|
|Making Improper Turn||9||0.9%|
WHAS-TV in Louisville covered Kentucky lawmakers’ latest attempt to change the texting and driving law, converting it into a complete hands-free law. In it, they included some testimonial accounts from people on the road observing the texting and driving problem in Kentucky.
Dande Hill, a resident of Kentucky originally from Tennessee, said:
“So many drivers literally don’t care because they’re always on their phone and I always watch it. If they apply this new law in Kentucky, it’s going to be the same. I mean, most people don’t even know the laws anyway.”
Kentucky’s penalties for texting and driving are some of the most lenient in America, with just a $25 fine for the first violation and $50 for any subsequent violations. And like texting and driving laws in other states, Kentucky’s law is difficult to enforce. Part of the reason is the texting condition in the law.
As Paul Binton, a state trooper in Kentucky, told the Courier-Journal in 2015:
“We can say, ‘Hey, it looked like you were texting.’ And the person can say, ‘Well, I wasn’t. I was looking up a number.”
Two of Kentucky’s lawmakers are trying to change that. Their bill makes the penalties tougher for texting and driving and creates a complete hands-free law. Here’s hoping it goes through and lowers the number of distracted driving-related crashes in the state.
#5 – New Jersey
New Jersey has plenty of character, as evidenced by Atlantic City, Jersey Shore, and some of its former governors. However, one statistic it would rather not be known for comes from our data: It’s ranked number five in distracted driving-related fatal crashes.
How bad was this issue? Distracted driving accounted for 11.9 percent of all fatal crashes in the Garden State. It was the third-largest leading cause, behind operating the vehicle in a careless manner and speeding. Sometimes, all three go together.
|Factors||Fatal Crashes||% of Fatal Crashes|
|Driving Too Fast For Conditions Or In Excess Of Posted Limit||103||13.3%|
|Under The Influence Of Alcohol, Drugs, Or Medication||56||7.2%|
|Failure To Keep In Proper Lane||69||8.9%|
|Failure To Yield Right Of Way||38||4.9%|
|Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||92||11.9%|
|Operating Vehicle In A Careless Manner||124||16.0%|
|Failure To Obey Traffic Signs,Signals, Or Officer||40||5.2%|
|Operating Vehicle In Erratic, Reckless, Careless, Or Negligent Manner||91||11.7%|
|Swerving Or Avoiding Due To Wind, Slippery Surface, Object In Roadway, Etc.||3||0.4%|
|Vision Obscured (Rain, Snow, Glare, Lights, Building, Trees, Etc.)||21||2.7%|
|Drowsy, Asleep, Fatigued, Ill, Or Blackout||17||2.2%|
|Driving Wrong Way On One-Way Trafficway Or Wrong Side Of Road||13||1.7%|
|Making Improper Turn||8||1.0%|
State officials have known the prevalence of distracted driving in New Jersey for some time. The State of New Jersey’s Office of the Attorney General writes on its website:
“Distracted driving is a dangerous epidemic on New Jersey’s roadways, being cited as a major contributing factor in nearly 800,000 motor vehicle crashes in the state from 2012 to 2016.”
Larry Higgs of NJ Advance Media, citing a state report, writes:
“Distracted driving continued to be the top factor in fatal crashes in the state for the sixth straight year , more than speeding or driving while intoxicated, according to a State Police analysis of 2016’s fatal crashes.”
In that year, distracted driving was a factor in 217 out of 570 crashes. Because of that, you might not be surprised to know that New Jersey has some of the toughest laws against distracted driving in the country.
The formal law is for a handheld wireless device and is covered in Section 1 of P.L.2003, c.310 of New Jersey’s state statutes. The fines are:
- First offense: not less than $200 or more than $400
- Second offense: not less than $400 or more than $600
- Third+ offense: not less than $600 or more than $800
In 2016, three lawmakers tried to go a step further and ban common practices of drinking, eating, smoking, and fiddling with the radio under the guise of distracted driving. While their bid didn’t succeed, a driver can still be ticketed for these practices under the unsafe or careless driving laws.
Further, as part of its crackdown on distracted drivers, the New Jersey state police has run operations and campaigns to enforce the state laws. According to Rosenblum Law, in the 2018 campaign:
“Police throughout New Jersey issued 13,146 tickets for cellphone use or texting.”
There were thousands of other tickets written for other driving infractions. One such crackdown was covered by the CBS Philly branch.
Its laws have been ridiculed across the country and its police department questioned. However, it is succeeding, at least for one year. In 2017, it was ranked third in this list. This year, it has dropped two rankings. There’s a little bit of progress.
#4 – Washington
The Evergreen State boasts the Pacific coastline, mountainous ranges, and deep forests. As such, it has difficult driving challenges. One part you might not want to add to, unfortunately, is that Washington ranks highly (or lowly, depending on your point of view) for distracted driving.
The totals: 133 fatal crashes, which accounts for 14.8 percent of all fatal crashes. It’s enough to rank Washington number four in the country. These are all dubious statistics and place Washington at the forefront of the distracted driving epidemic.
|Factors||Fatal Crashes||% of Fatal Crashes|
|Driving Too Fast For Conditions Or In Excess Of Posted Limit||163||21.4%|
|Under The Influence Of Alcohol, Drugs, Or Medication||73||9.6%|
|Failure To Keep In Proper Lane||57||7.5%|
|Failure To Yield Right Of Way||45||5.9%|
|Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||113||14.8%|
|Failure To Obey Traffic Signs,Signals, Or Officer||27||3.5%|
|Swerving Or Avoiding Due To Wind, Slippery Surface, Object In Roadway, Etc.||14||1.8%|
|Vision Obscured (Rain, Snow, Glare, Lights, Building, Trees, Etc.)||6||0.8%|
|Drowsy, Asleep, Fatigued, Ill, Or Blackout||17||2.2%|
|Driving Wrong Way On One-Way Trafficway Or Wrong Side Of Road||12||1.6%|
|Making Improper Turn||3||0.4%|
Like the other states, it is serious business for Washington as well. The Washington Traffic Safety Commission has a page completely devoted to distracted driving. It includes some unsettling statistics about drivers in the Evergreen State.
These include that drivers are three times more likely to crash in Washington when talking on a cellphone and that 70 percent of observed distracted drivers were using their cellphones when the study was conducted. What is Washington doing about all of this?
In fact, quite a bit.
In 2018, a new distracted driving law went into effect, making Washington’s penalties for distracted driving some of the harshest in the country.
Under the law, using a cellphone while driving is labeled an E-DUI, or electronic DUI. The first offense carries a fine of $136. A second offense $234. The Washington government has made a video explaining the new law.
While the electronic DUI might be the most serious offense of the new law, a driver can still be cited for other distracted driving behaviors, including drinking coffee, eating, grooming, and more.
These behaviors are secondary offenses, however, and can only be cited when the driver does something else to break the law, such as running a stoplight.
Aside from the harsher penalties, the State of Washington has also created a campaign called Target Zero, which aims to create a distracted driving free environment in the Evergreen State. Here’s hoping its efforts succeed and its overall fatal crashes drops.
#3 – Hawaii
Hawaii is known as a traveler’s paradise. Palm trees sway against the backdrop of sand and the ocean, with delicious food enough to fulfill any ravenous stomach, as well as plenty of surfing. But another thing is greeting Hawaii’s visitors when they touch down — something that has ailed long-term residents and natives. That, of course, is distracted driving.
Hawaii makes the list at number three here, but even ranking 48th worst out of 50 states doesn’t quite do the issue justice. There were 24 fatal crashes in a state with a small population, a whopping 15.4 percent of the total fatal crash total.
For causes of fatal accidents, distracted driving is behind only speeding, which accounts for 31.4 percent of fatal crashes in Hawaii. Both (but especially being caught speeding) can significantly raise your car insurance rates.
|Factors||Fatal Crashes||% of Fatal Crashes|
|Driving Too Fast For Conditions Or In Excess Of Posted Limit||49||31.4%|
|Under The Influence Of Alcohol, Drugs, Or Medication||5||3.2%|
|Failure To Keep In Proper Lane||16||10.3%|
|Failure To Yield Right Of Way||5||3.2%|
|Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||24||15.4%|
|Operating Vehicle In A Careless Manner||1||0.6%|
|Failure To Obey Traffic Signs,Signals, Or Officer||3||1.9%|
|Operating Vehicle In Erratic, Reckless, Careless, Or Negligent Manner||12||7.7%|
|Vision Obscured (Rain, Snow, Glare, Lights, Building, Trees, Etc.)||22||14.1%|
|Drowsy, Asleep, Fatigued, Ill, Or Blackout||3||1.9%|
|Making Improper Turn||1||0.6%|
Of course, it appears Hawaii officials have known this for some time. There is a designated Distracted Driving Awareness Month (April) where city departments bring out the bullhorns and warn people about distracted driving while clamping down and running operations specifically to punish people who have been using electronic devices while driving.
The Hawaii DOT made a video announcing the Distracted Driving Awareness Month when it was first proclaimed.
As Jade Butay, director of Hawaii’s Department of Transportation, said in April 2019:
“The ultimate goal of this effort is to prevent unnecessary injuries and deaths associated with using a cellphone while driving. These senseless crashes are preventable, and the focus should be on driving to ensure that everyone arrives alive.”
The law in Hawaii was changed initially in 2013 to prohibit texting and driving. Since then, it has expanded to include all handheld electronic device use for every member of the population except for certain civil service members such as EMS, firefighters, and police officers. Hands-free device use is permitted for those aged 18 and up. Even hands-free use is prohibited for those under 18.
The laws come with some of the stiffest penalties around the nation. A single infraction costs $250, while a single infraction in a school zone or construction zone costs $300. Further, a driver who receives an infraction while engaging in commercial services can receive fines up to $2,750 and a suspension in commercial driving privileges.
This is a serious issue in Hawaii and for all intents and purposes, it appears the state government takes it seriously. Here’s hoping the fatal crashes drop and everyone gets back to leis and piña coladas.
#2 – Kansas
The state of the hearty steak soup and a blueblood basketball program is known for its prairies and wide-open spaces, but what you might not know is that Kansas has a problem. That problem landed it in number two on this list and leads to many fatal crashes. What’s that problem?
Distracted driving caused 119 crashes in Kansas in 2018, a whopping 21.2 percent of all fatal crashes, making it the single largest cause of fatal crashes in the Sunflower State.
|Factors||Fatal Crashes||% of Fatal Crashes|
|Driving Too Fast For Conditions Or In Excess Of Posted Limit||89||15.9%|
|Under The Influence Of Alcohol, Drugs, Or Medication||59||10.5%|
|Failure To Keep In Proper Lane||8||1.4%|
|Failure To Yield Right Of Way||54||9.6%|
|Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||119||21.2%|
|Operating Vehicle In A Careless Manner||31||5.5%|
|Failure To Obey Traffic Signs,Signals, Or Officer||28||5.0%|
|Operating Vehicle In Erratic, Reckless, Careless, Or Negligent Manner||31||5.5%|
|Swerving Or Avoiding Due To Wind, Slippery Surface, Object In Roadway, Etc.||27||4.8%|
|Vision Obscured (Rain, Snow, Glare, Lights, Building, Trees, Etc.)||18||3.2%|
|Drowsy, Asleep, Fatigued, Ill, Or Blackout||28||5.0%|
|Driving Wrong Way On One-Way Trafficway Or Wrong Side Of Road||35||6.2%|
|Making Improper Turn||5||0.9%|
While it’s difficult to tell why this happens in Kansas more than other states, it does have lenient laws when it comes to cellphones.
In fact, just texting and driving is banned in Kansas, prohibiting drivers from reading, writing, or sending electronic messages. Aside from texting and driving, cellphone use, including holding a cellphone up to your ear and talking while driving, is permitted.
There have been attempts to change this, however.
In 2017, a meeting between legislators debated whether to change the language in the texting and driving bill from “unlawful text messaging” to “unlawful use of a wireless communication device.” This would have expanded prohibiting texting and driving to other forms of handheld use.
While it may have proved unsuccessful, like the person trying to save money on car insurance, Kansas works hard to reduce distracted driving crashes and deaths. And it should, as the consequences in Kansas have been serious.
Our statistics show damage for 2018. However, according to the Kansas Legislator 2018 Briefing Book,
“Kansas data for 2016 show distracted driving was recorded as a factor in 2,351 crashes that led to injuries or property damage. 15 people died and 974 were injured in those crashes. The total costs of crashes in 2016 involving distracted drivers were estimated at $820.9 million.”
Unfortunately, Kansas doesn’t have much of a deterrent when it comes to distracted driving. A single infraction costs a driver just $60, although courts can run up this cost if they see fit to do so. This makes the penalty for getting caught driving while texting much lower than the likes of New Jersey, Washington, and Hawaii, for instance.
However, some police officers are doing their best to raise awareness.
— Frank Donchez (@OPPD_Chief) October 16, 2019
A passenger in the accident was taken to the hospital for back and neck injuries. Officer John Lacy, spokesperson for the police department, said to WQAD:
“People are not paying attention. When you’re looking at your phone, back and forth, that’s when an accident can happen.”
It’s a serious issue in Kansas. But still not enough to dethrone number one.
#1 – New Mexico
New Mexico, unlike our other state counterparts, needs no introduction. It has consistently ranked as the state with the worst drivers, and over the past two years it has been number one on this list. Maybe New Mexico drivers are just that bad. Or there may be lenient laws for deviant and reckless driving behavior.
Like Hawaii, New Mexico made a video about their Distracted Driving Awareness Month that serves a little bit as a PSA.
When it comes to distracted driving, there is just a $25 infraction for texting and driving. And there is no statewide handheld driving ban.
This, fortunately, has changed recently as more and more municipalities are outlawing all cellphone use while driving themselves. According to MVD, this includes Silver City, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces, Gallup, Taos, and Espanola. However, in spite of the municipality laws, distracted driving is a major problem in New Mexico.
So what are the statistics behind this scourge? 132 fatal crashes. 25.6 percent of all fatal crashes. The number one cause of all fatal car crashes in 2018, ahead of speeding and driving the vehicle in a careless manner.
|Factors||Fatal Crashes||% of Fatal Crashes|
|Driving Too Fast For Conditions Or In Excess Of Posted Limit||118||22.9%|
|Under The Influence Of Alcohol, Drugs, Or Medication||48||9.3%|
|Failure To Keep In Proper Lane||26||5.0%|
|Failure To Yield Right Of Way||27||5.2%|
|Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||132||25.6%|
|Operating Vehicle In A Careless Manner||115||22.3%|
|Failure To Obey Traffic Signs,Signals, Or Officer||18||3.5%|
|Operating Vehicle In Erratic, Reckless, Careless, Or Negligent Manner||9||1.7%|
|Swerving Or Avoiding Due To Wind, Slippery Surface, Object In Roadway, Etc.||12||2.3%|
|Vision Obscured (Rain, Snow, Glare, Lights, Building, Trees, Etc.)||15||2.9%|
|Drowsy, Asleep, Fatigued, Ill, Or Blackout||9||1.7%|
|Driving Wrong Way On One-Way Trafficway Or Wrong Side Of Road||4||0.8%|
|Making Improper Turn||4||0.8%|
It can be a scary issue. Officer Ferris Simmons of the Albuquerque Police Department told KOAT when the texting and driving bill was signed:
“I was on patrol for 13 years. It’s very simple to see people texting and driving because they are not looking at the road. That’s really scary if you think about it. You see a driver with their head buried, you know, pointing downward because they’re clearly not looking out for kids in crosswalks or cars stalled in intersections, even officers investigating maybe a traffic crash.”
Hopefully, it mellows out in New Mexico. And they drop out of the number one spot.
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So, now you know. The 10 worst states for distracted driving are all across the country. Some have stringent distracted driving laws with fines in the upper hundreds for breaking them. Some have simple slaps on the wrist, with just $25 or $50 for a single infraction.
Those are the broad statistics and culture surrounding the issue of distracted driving. However, we had an opportunity to dive into some more specific statistics for those top 10 states (and states overall). We looked specifically at statistics for the youngest and oldest drivers.
Are you a teen driver or parent of a teen? Yes, rates will be higher for the newest, youngest drivers (higher risk), but we can help you lower those rates. Check out this guide to car insurance for a teenager. It’s packed with tips for finding the best coverage and steps to follow to bring those steep rates down
The first part to note: Teen drivers ages 15 – 19 are a major part of the distracted driving issue. Statistics bear that out. Our personal set of statistics shows that teens were involved in 10.51 percent of distracted driving accidents in the bottom 10 states.
The highest percentages were in Kansas, Massachusetts, and Louisiana.
|State||Involving Teens||NOT Involving Teens||Total # Accidents||Teen % of Total|
That’s particularly bad in Louisiana, which had the highest number of distracted driving-related accidents. After Louisiana, New Mexico and Kentucky had the highest number of accidents. Both were in the middle-to-low brackets when it came to percentages of distracted driving accidents that involved teenage drivers.
Further, when it comes to distracted driving, teens were involved in accidents that led to 10.21 percent of distracted driver-related fatalities. In five states, those percentages were above 10: Kansas, Louisiana, Idaho, Massachusetts, and Kentucky. This can lead to significant jail time and sky-high insurance rates, which are already high, as in the case of insurance rates for 17-year-old drivers or 18-year-old drivers.
|State||Death Involving Teens||Death NOT Involving Teens||Total # Deaths||Teen % of Total|
The state that jumps out is Kansas, in which 17.35 percentage of fatalities involved a teen driver. This is four percentage points above the closest state, Louisiana. For that state, the numbers don’t bear out easy as well, when combined with the high number of distracted driving accidents that involve teens in that state.
However, while teenagers get a bad rap, our statistics show that when it comes to distracted driving, it’s not teenagers that pose the most risk. It’s the elderly.
According to our data, 30.79 percent of accidents where distracted driving was a leading cause involved a driver aged 65 or above. In our bottom 10, five of the states had percentages above 33 percent: Louisiana, Kentucky, New Mexico, and New Jersey.
|State||Involving Elderly Driver||NOT Involving Elderly Driver||Total # Accidents||Elderly % of Total|
Some of the states with the highest percentage of crashes caused by teenage drivers are also on this list, including Louisiana and New Mexico. Still, every state except for Hawaii is at 24 percent or higher, much higher overall percentages than for teenage drivers.
Of the 901 distracted driving fatalities overall for the bottom 10 in 2018, an older driver was involved in 245 of them, or 27.19 percent.
|State||Deaths Involving Elderly Driver||Deaths w/o Elderly Driver||Elderly % of Total|
Driving fatalities per elderly driver, as mentioned in the previous statistic before the table, are very high, with each state except for Hawaii at 24 percent or higher. Louisiana and New Mexico (both familiar states) are in the top three. Joining them is Kentucky, where 35 percent of distracted driving fatalities involve an elderly driver.
These statistics seem to implicate the elderly more than teenagers when it comes to distracted driving. However, are these 10 states indicative of the entire United States?
Like that sneaky friend who borrows your car and totals it, only to leave you with the insurance costs, the surprises for all 50 states will come two sections down.
Eating. Drinking. Texting. These and many other factors result in distracted driving. But what does this picture look like for all states? For one, the median percentage of fatal crashes for all states where distracted driving is the cause is 4.55 percent.
|1||New Mexico||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||132||25.6%|
|2||Kansas||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||119||21.2%|
|3||Hawaii||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||24||15.4%|
|4||Washington||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||113||14.8%|
|5||New Jersey||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||92||11.9%|
|6||Kentucky||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||121||11.8%|
|7||Louisiana||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||109||10.2%|
|8||Massachusetts||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||39||8.0%|
|9||Idaho||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||24||7.6%|
|10||New York||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||96||7.5%|
|11||District of Columbia||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||3||6.8%|
|12||Texas||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||343||6.6%|
|13||Wisconsin||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||52||6.5%|
|14||Colorado||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||53||6.0%|
|15||Maryland||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||40||5.5%|
|16||Delaware||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||9||5.4%|
|17||Missouri||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||72||5.4%|
|18||Minnesota||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||28||5.2%|
|19||Oklahoma||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||48||5.0%|
|20||South Carolina||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||72||4.9%|
|21||Alaska||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||5||4.8%|
|22||Florida||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||218||4.8%|
|23||Virginia||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||55||4.8%|
|24||Michigan||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||68||4.6%|
|25||Utah||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||17||4.5%|
|26||Oregon||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||29||4.4%|
|27||Iowa||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||20||4.3%|
|28||New Hampshire||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||8||4.1%|
|29||Pennsylvania||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||69||4.1%|
|30||North Carolina||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||80||3.9%|
|31||Arizona||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||52||3.8%|
|32||Arkansas||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||52||3.8%|
|33||Alabama||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||49||3.7%|
|34||North Dakota||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||5||3.5%|
|35||Maine||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||6||3.4%|
|36||South Dakota||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||5||3.4%|
|37||West Virginia||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||14||3.4%|
|38||Tennessee||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||50||3.3%|
|39||Nebraska||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||11||3.1%|
|40||Ohio||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||49||3.1%|
|41||Georgia||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||60||2.8%|
|42||Montana||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||6||2.8%|
|43||Illinois||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||38||2.6%|
|44||California||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||113||2.3%|
|45||Indiana||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||27||2.2%|
|46||Nevada||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||10||2.2%|
|47||Wyoming||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||3||2.2%|
|48||Connecticut||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||7||1.7%|
|49||Vermont||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||1||1.2%|
|50||Mississippi||Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||8||0.9%|
After the worst seven states have percentages of 10 percent or more for distracted driving-related accidents compared to total accidents, the percentages seem to level out a little bit, starting at Massachusetts with 8 percent.
For most states, the percentage of distracted driving-related crashes out of the total is 6.6 percent or lower, with Mississippi being at the bottom with distracted driving just under 1 percent of fatal crashes. Overall, distracted driving accounts for 3.96 percent of all fatal crashes in the United States.
|Category||Total Fatal Crashes||% of Total|
|Driving Too Fast For Conditions Or In Excess Of Posted Limit||8,728||12.7%|
|Under The Influence Of Alcohol, Drugs, Or Medication||5,255||7.6%|
|Failure To Keep In Proper Lane||3,721||5.4%|
|Failure To Yield Right Of Way||3,630||5.3%|
|Distracted (Phone, Talking, Eating, Object, Etc.)||2,724||4.0%|
|Operating Vehicle In A Careless Manner||2,583||3.8%|
|Failure To Obey Traffic Signs,Signals, Or Officer||2,028||3.0%|
|Operating Vehicle In Erratic, Reckless, Careless, Or Negligent Manner||1,913||2.9%|
|Vision Obscured (Rain, Snow, Glare, Lights, Building, Trees, Etc.)||1,500||2.2%|
|Drowsy, Asleep, Fatigued, Ill, Or Blackout||1,244||1.8%|
|Driving Wrong Way On One-Way Trafficway Or Wrong Side Of Road||1,198||1.7%|
|Swerving Or Avoiding Due To Wind, Slippery Surface, Object In Roadway, Etc.||1,137||1.7%|
|Making Improper Turn||640||0.9%|
The leaders are speeding, being under the influence of alcohol, or failure to keep in the proper lane. The bottom known causes were making an improper turn or swerving/avoiding due to wind, slippery surface, vehicle, object, nonmotorist in the roadway, or some other factor.
The majority of crashes, however, have unknown causes or none were reported. While minor distracted driving accidents require you to go through the regular procedures after an accident and lead to an increase in car insurance rates, fatal crashes have much more devastating consequences, including loss of life and possible jail time.
Distracted Driving Among Teens & Elderly in ALL States
When we looked at the statistics for the bottom 10 states, we saw a trend: the elderly were involved more than teenagers in distracted driving accidents and fatalities.
Obviously, there’s a little bit of a population gap in this. Those aged 65 and older account for a lot of people, whereas 15 – 19 is a much smaller age bracket. And while ads about cellphones frequently target the young, there are other factors of distracted driving that may impact the elderly more, in addition to the litany of challenges the elderly face when driving.
All that said, does this trend continue with all states rather than just the bottom 10?
Young drivers (15 – 19) were involved in 12.81 percent of distracted driving accidents, 10.66 percent of all accidents other than distracted driving-related, and 10.81 percent of all accidents. Those numbers drop for fatalities, with teenage drivers being a little safer than the norm.
|Deaths Involving Teens||Deaths NOT Involving Teens||Teen % of Total|
While they were involved in 12.81 percent of all distracted driving accidents, they were involved in 11.51 percent of all fatalities. This means that although they were involved in a lot of distracted driving accidents, those accidents didn’t always result in a fatality.
Within our data, we also looked at a statistic called killed-to-involved percentage. This statistic is the ratio of how many people were killed in fatal accidents compared to the number of fatal accidents there were. In effect, they can be seen as a measure of how dangerous an accident (or the driving behaviors for that accident) are.
An example is a situation where middle-aged men were involved in five fatal car accidents and those accidents resulted in two fatalities. The ratio of fatalities to accidents would be 2:5. The killed-to-involved percentage would be 2 divided by 5, or 40 percent.
Young drivers also have lower killed-to-involved percentages (35.54) than other drivers (38.38) both in distracted driving accidents and accidents not involving distracted driving.
The elderly (65+) were involved in a much higher percentage of distracted driving crashes than teenagers in 2018. For all states, the percentage was 25.76. They were involved in 21.92 percent of crashes unrelated to distracted driving and 22.27 percent of all crashes.
Their numbers were similar for people killed.
|Deaths Involving Elderly Driver||Deaths w/o Elderly Driver||Elderly % of Total|
The percentage of distracted driving accidents that involved the elderly was 23.62 percent. This is over 12 percent higher than teenage drivers, more than doubling the number of people killed from the former group to the latter.
However, the elderly killed-to-involved ratio was lower than that number (34.88 to 35.54), suggesting that although they cause more accidents than teenagers, the accidents they are involved in have a lower fatality rate.
The states with the worst killed-to-involved percentages for elderly drivers were split between large states, small states, rural states, and more urban states, just like our worst overall distracted driving list.
Some of the names, such as Washington or New Jersey, are familiar, while others such as Montana and South Dakota are not.
As with the bottom 10 states, older drivers are involved in a much higher percentage of distracted driving accidents than teenage drivers. However, the age bracket is much larger and faces numerous driving challenges related to health. Older drivers are involved in a much larger percentage of accidents overall compared to teenage drivers.
Overall, a teen driver or elderly driver was involved in 38 percent of all distracted-driver crashes. This is somewhat remarkable, as both age groups average roughly 7,700 miles driven per year, while the other age groups average 12,000 or higher.
It’s also interesting to note, however, that the elderly have significantly lower insurance rates on average than teenage drivers, in spite of these statistics. Check out our article about average insurance rates per age group for more information.
When we looked at the NHTSA statistics, we had questions about each state and the leading causes of fatal crashes. We had additional questions about the age of drivers involved in distracted driving crashes. Finally, we had one more question.
This one had to do about race. Specifically, are some races more than others more involved in distracted driving crashes? Let’s take a look.
For distracted driving accidents, there was a great deal of missing information, which was either labeled not applicable or straight up missing from the statistics. We removed the N/A column from the table to make it more readable but the N/A values for each state varied from 1.3 percent to 19 percent.
In the data that was available, whites are far and away the leader of all races. That’s unsurprising, as whites make up the majority in the United States according to Data USA. This is the case within states as well, where whites were the leader in all but six.
|State||Hispanic||White||Black||Am. Indian||Asian||Pac. Islander|
|District of Columbia||0.0%||0.0%||33.3%||0.0%||0.0%||0.0%|
They are tied with other races in Alaska, California, the District of Columbia, and North Dakota. They are behind in Hawaii, Louisiana, and Maine. The other two races with the largest shares are Hispanics at 4.6 percent of the total and blacks at 3.5 percent of the total.
The other races listed in the table had marginal values, likely corresponding to their overall population share in the United States. If you want to know about the difficulties of distracted driving with some humor, watch the Try Guys.
For this piece, we sent out an open-ended request to experts around the country: Provide information about distracted driving as it relates to science, personal stories, and public policy. We received responses from experts at car manufacturing companies, online driving schools, and insurance organizations, to name just three. Here are their responses.
The Raw Statistics Behind Distracted Driving
“The raw statistics behind distracted driving, taken from the report Don’t Blame Millennials, Distracted Driving Is Ageless.
- More than half of Americans (55 percent) feel the top threat to safety on the road is driving distracted, compared to driving under the influence (31 percent).
- 89 percent of Americans feel we need better education around the impact of distracted driving.
- Gen-Xers and millennials consistently outpace Zs in phone usage across multiple activities.
- Parents are the primary culprits of using their phones behind the wheel (73 percent vs. 66 percent overall).
- One in three parents admits to using their phones often when their kids are with them.
- Many Americans (64 percent) are looking for ways to cut down on the distractions. Among Gen-Z that number rises to 89 percent.
- 33 percent of Americans drive in silence to minimize distractions and 32 percent turn their phones on ‘do not disturb’ to eliminate notifications.
Full statistics can be found in our larger report Volvo Reports: Finding Focus on the Road.”
Volvo is a car manufacturing company with headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden. It produces luxury cars including full electric and hybrid-electric cars and posted a revenue of $210 billion in 2017.
The Plethora of Distracted Driving Causes
“We think of distracted driving as using our phones for texting, reading the news, or spending time on social media. But distracted driving doesn’t have to be something that takes away your attention from the task at hand—driving—for as long as it takes to send a quick text message from your phone.
Something as small as glancing at your cup holder as you reach out to take a sip of coffee, or looking at your spouse in the passenger seat as you make conversation and answer a question, is also distracted driving.
Think of it this way: A car can cover a bit more than the length of a football field in five seconds, traveling at 55 miles per hour. Now imagine how long it takes you to reprimand little Susie in the backseat to stop pinching younger brother Bobbie. Think how much ground you would have traveled in that amount of time.
Five seconds is clearly too long to be looking away from the road and from your driving. Researchers from the University of Missouri, as a matter of fact, have found that not paying attention to your driving for any amount of time, no matter how short, increases your risk for a highway collision by a factor of 29.
Texting while driving is certainly the most common cause of distracted driving today, but then it’s been that way for quite a while. Back in 2013, for example, Kars4Kids conducted a survey on distracted driving.
Back then, 97.8 percent of those surveyed said they were aware of the dangers of texting while driving, then the leading cause of deaths in teenage drivers, yet 29.9 percent admitting to texting while driving, anyway.
Bluetooth is an excellent advance and trend, in terms of lowering the risk of distracted driving. According to Tom Dingus of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, ‘The primarily cognitive secondary task of talking on a hands-free device does not appear to have any detrimental effects,’ as opposed to visual or manual demands on a driver, for instance, texting.”
Varda Meyers Epstein is a parenting expert at Kars4Kids.
Kars4Kids is a national car donation program whose proceeds go to mentoring programs.
The Perils of Higher Connectivity and How Cellphones Affect Our Brains
“It’s no secret that distracted driving has risen right alongside the widespread use of smartphones. The science behind it is pretty simple — it all comes down to dopamine. When we look at social media, breaking news, or other distractions, our brain receives a little bit of dopamine.
Like it or not, a lot of us in the modern world have become addicted to these little bits of dopamine that we get from our phones, and like any other addict, we may go to great lengths to get it.
Alcoholism is an addiction. And while it is no excuse for drunk driving, it is at least an explanation. In the same way, modern drivers who ‘can’t help themselves’ from checking a quick email on the road may not realize it, but are probably experiencing an addiction themselves.
Another side of the issue is the constant demands of the modern world. With higher connectivity, many people don’t want to wait for a response. While in the past people may have better understood that not everyone was reachable at all times, their present-day counterparts are more likely to be insistent on instant gratification and by-the-minute replies.
That pressure may make drivers think they can’t afford to wait half an hour to reply and, thus, drivers will enter into the dangerous activity of texting while driving.
As distracted driving accidents continue to rise, many states and municipalities have begun to increase fines. In Colorado, for example, the fine was raised from just $50 to $300 in 2017.
Research from the University of Iowa shows that even simple phone conversations can greatly affect the brain’s ability to focus on the road. The study, which measured eye movements and reaction times, proved that drivers talking on cellphones took nearly twice as long to respond to new stimuli.
That puts on average an extra 40 milliseconds on the cellphone using drivers, which may not seem like much, but on the road, every millisecond counts.
What you’ll see is a compounding snowball effect where every delayed reaction delays the time it takes to initiate a counter-action and so on. Whether it’s texting or talking, it’s clear that cellphones use ads to the cognitive load of a driver or even puts them in a mental fog.
But some studies suggest that because we use our cellphones so often and in ways that feel effortless to us, we often don’t even realize how much effort it actually takes. But the fact of the matter is these things are very effortful and they occupy a sizable portion of brain bandwidth.
This is especially true of texting on the road which has been shown to actually reduce the field of vision of a driver, even when they feel like they’re keeping an eye on the road. A sort of ‘tunnel vision’ occurs where often the driver wrongly thinks they are still giving the road their full attention.
With more and more states adding or increasing fines for distracted driving, only 21 states have banned hand-held cellphone use at a state-wide level. Washington was the first state to ban text messaging while driving in 2007. Now 48 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands all prohibit texting of any kind for the driver of a vehicle.
Other states such as Vermont ban cellphone use across the board for drivers younger than 21. In 2017, it was Iowa that first made texting while driving a primary enforcement priority putting it high on the list of action items with speeding in a school zone and failure to stop. Now, texting while driving is a primary enforcement priority in all states but four – Florida, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota.”
Jake McKenzie is the content manager at Auto Accessories Garage.
Auto Accessories Garage is a family-owned retailer of automotive parts and accessories.
Bad Behaviors While Driving and Negative Consequences
“There are many different types and causes of distracted driving that we need to understand and prevent. Some have existed since the introduction of the automobile, such as eating, smoking, putting on makeup, or talking to passengers while driving.
Getting drowsy behind the wheel is another type of distraction that can happen in a variety of situations, such as when you drive at night, for an extended period, or after a bad night’s sleep. Use of some prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications can cause drowsiness on their own or when mixed with even one alcoholic drink.
Most people understand that drinking and driving is an extremely dangerous distraction. However, according to a recent DriversEd.com survey, 24 percent of respondents were not aware that driving while high is illegal.
One of the deadliest driving distractions is one of the newest: using smartphones. It takes your eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, and mind off what’s happening around you.
The DriversEd.com survey found that more than 30 percent of drivers said they use their phones while driving more than they should. In addition to talking and texting, almost one-quarter of survey participants admitted to using their phones for other types of bad behavior, including using social media, watching a video, and recording video behind the wheel.
If you drive distracted but don’t suffer any immediate negative consequences, it may cause you to believe that you’re immune from potential dangers. That may cause you to feel comfortable with riskier behavior behind the wheel. Shifting your attention off the road, even for a few seconds, to respond to a text or social media alert is one of the most significant hazards facing drivers today.
Distractions are a danger for older drivers as well as young ones. Putting your phone in the glove box before you begin driving is an excellent way to avoid the temptation of responding to incoming calls, texts, and social alerts.
Also, make a promise to yourself that staying focused on the road will be your number one priority every time you drive.
If you want to learn more about avoiding potential hazards, taking an online driving course at DriversEd.com is a convenient way for you or a loved one to brush up on your driving skills.”
Laura Adams is the senior safety and education analyst at DriversEd.com.
This online driving school, founded in 1997, specializes in defensive driving training.
The Public Crackdown on Distracted Driving
“Distracted driving has become an alarming trend. Phone use while driving has increased with the rise of smartphones. As many as 20 percent of drivers have admitted to texting while driving in an exclusive Finder survey, and 40 percent have talked on the phone while driving.
The more our phones can do, the more people feel compelled to use them any time, even while driving. Some newer studies have delved into the addictive nature behind social media or mobile gaming, which adds to the compulsion to always be checking for new phone notifications or being active on these platforms.
The good news is there’s also been a public policy crackdown on distracted driving to combat the problem.
It’s now illegal in 48 states to drive while texting, and talking on the phone while driving is now illegal for most drivers under 18 and banned for all drivers in half the U.S.
Drivers can receive a ticket and up to hundreds of dollars in fines or even jail time for causing an accident because of phone use, and they can expect their own car insurance rates to increase after getting a distracted driving ticket.
Some states have also expanded their definition of texting to include other uses such as Internet use, playing games or using social media, though this has come more slowly as the lawmakers respond to how drivers are using their smartphones in new ways. Exceptions usually include emergency calls or GPS navigation or talking on the phone using a hands-free device.
These new laws have helped reduce accidents caused by distracted drivers over the past few years, according to NHTSA crash data. As you’d expect, states with a high number of road fatalities — like Texas, California, and Florida — also see high numbers of such crashes.
However, several states like Oregon and Nevada are seeing the lowest rates of distracted driving crashes after banning all handheld phone use. Even a partial ban on phone use for all drivers with no texting ban has helped reduce accidents in states like New Mexico and Mississippi.
More personally, I have friends and family who have been in accidents caused by distracted driving. They’ve faced higher car insurance rates, whiplash and airbag chemical burns, and a few have traded in their cards for safer models, fearing a future accident. Many of us have had near-misses on the road due to distracted driving ourselves, which should serve as a reminder to remain focused and vigilant.”
Roslyn McKenna is a publisher for US Insurance at Finder.com.
Finder, founded in 2007, helps users navigate complex insurance decisions.
The Final Word on Distracted Driving
This study had a little bit of everything. There were people speeding, driving under the influence, and, yes, driving distracted. Most people, if they were honest, would admit to doing it a bit themselves. If it isn’t texting and driving, it’s driving while eating, turning to reprimand the kids, or spacing out while looking at the endless cornfields in Iowa.
But that doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous and, in fact, it should highlight the dangers of this issue. In a blink of an eye, you cross 88 feet at highway driving speeds. In the time it takes to send a text, you can cover about an entire football field.
The study provides a little bit of a cautionary tale. Even the states with some of the harshest penalties for distracted driving ended up in the worst 10, showing that, as a society, we have a lot to do.
In the end, this study was meant to be illuminating. We hope that it impacted you in some way, whether to advocate more for stricter penalties or to put the phone down if you receive a text while driving. For more information, check out this article about the deadliest driver distractions. Clear eyes, full hearts.
Get started on your car insurance journey today simply by entering your ZIP code below. Then you can be on your way to safe, distracted free driving.
We started with a simple quest: how does distracted driving relate to fatal crashes in states, teenage and elderly drivers, and different races? It was an interesting quest. After all, how would we come up with that data? We turned to a standard organization in the car insurance and safety industry: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
From its 2018 data for distracted driving, we compiled nearly 8,000 data points. The main focus areas were fatal crashes within states, fatal crashes for teenage and elderly drivers, and distracted driving crashes for different races.
Each category had subcategories. For fatal crashes within states, we looked at 17 different factors, everything from speeding to making an improper turn.
- Driving too fast for conditions or in excess of the posted limit
- Under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication
- Failure to keep in the proper lane
- Failure to yield the right of way
- Distracted (Phone, talking, eating, object)
- Operating a vehicle in a careless manner
- Failure to obey traffic signs, signals, or an officer
- Operating a vehicle in an erratic, reckless, careless, or negligent manner
- Swerving or avoiding due to wind, slippery surface, vehicle, object, nonmotorist in the roadway.
- Vision obscured (Rain, snow, glare, lights, building, or trees)
- Drowsy, asleep, fatigued, ill, or blackout
- Driving the wrong way on one-way traffic way or wrong side of the road
- Making an improper turn
For data about teenage and elderly drivers, we looked at three broad categories: fatal crashes involving a driver, fatalities in crashes involving a driver, and killed-to-involved percentage. This last part was the ratio between the crashes a certain age of drivers was in versus how many people were killed — essentially, how deadly the crashes were.
For each of those categories, we had state data. We knew how many fatal crashes in Alabama in which a teenage driver was involved in versus Nevada and Washington. We also broke down those categories to include which crashes had a distracted driver, which didn’t, and which had a distracted driver who was not in those age groups.
Then there was the race data. We broke down which race (races defined by OMB guidelines) were involved in distracted driving-related crashes in each state. Then we calculated the percentage of those drivers per the state total and then the total overall. So we knew which state had a certain percentage of Hispanic drivers in distracted driving-related accidents versus whites, non-Hispanic.