Facts + Statistics: Distracted driving

Activities that take drivers’ attention off the road, including talking or texting on cellphones, eating, talking with passengers, adjusting vehicle controls and other distractions, are major safety threats. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) there are three main types of distraction: visual, taking your eyes off the road;

  • manual, taking your hands off the wheel; and
  • cognitive, taking your mind off driving.

NHTSA gauges distracted driving by collecting data on distraction-affected crashes, which focus on distractions that are most likely to result in crashes, such as dialing a cellphone, texting, or being distracted by another person or an outside event. In 2020, 3,142 people were killed in crashes involving distractions. There were 2,880 distraction-affected fatal crashes, accounting for 8 percent of all fatal crashes in the nation. 

Fatal Crashes Involving Distracted Drivers, 2020

 

  Crashes Drivers Fatalities
Total fatal crashes 35,766 53,890 38,824
Distraction-affected fatal crashes      
Number of distraction-affected fatal crashes 2,880 2,968 3,142
Percent of total fatal crashes 8% 6% 8%
Cellphone in use in distraction-affected fatal crashes      
Number of cellphone distraction-affected fatal crashes 354 356 396
Percent of fatal distraction-affected crashes 12% 12% 13%

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Cellphone Use As A Distraction

There were 387 fatal crashes in 2019 that were reported to have involved the use of cellphones as a distraction. Over the last five years of reporting, 2015 to 2019, cellphones were reported as a distraction for 15 percent of all distracted drivers in fatal crashes. In 2019, 422 people died in fatal crashes that involved the use of cellphones or other cellphone-related activities as distractions

Driver Hand Held Cellphone Use By Age, 2011-2020 (1)

 

(1) Percent of all drivers using hand held cellphones.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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NHTSA gauges distracted driving by collecting data on distraction-affected crashes, which focus on distractions that are most likely to result in crashes, such as dialing a cellphone, texting, or being distracted by another person or an outside event. In 2020, 3,142 people were killed in crashes involving distractions. There were 2,880 distraction-affected fatal crashes, accounting for 8 percent of all fatal crashes in the nation.

Laws that prohibit all drivers from holding and using cellphones and other electronic devices while driving can help raise public awareness of the dangers of driving while using these devices and help lower crashes. Laws proscribing the use of cellphones vary from state to state. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, as of June 2022, talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving is banned in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Laws for novice drivers are even more restrictive: the use of all cellphones by novice drivers is restricted in 36 states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, drivers under 21 are banned from texting in Missouri.

For a discussion on state laws banning texting while driving, see Facts and Statistics, Highway Safety, Distracted driving.

Distracted Driving by Age

Teen drivers and young adults are at the greatest risk for distracted driving. According to NHTSA, among drivers involved in fatal crashes, drivers age 15 to 19 were most likely to be distracted. Eight percent of drivers aged 15 to 19 were distracted at the time of the crash, compared with 6 percent of drivers between the ages of 20 and 29, the highest rates among age groups. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in a 2019 survey of high school students that 39 percent of high school students who drove in the past 30 days texted or emailed while driving on at least one of those days.

 

 

Additional resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Safety.com

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