Distracted Driving: Facts, Stats and Scare Tactics

These mini-computers we call smartphones are changing the game when people get behind the wheel.


Imagine driving down a beautiful stretch of country road with the windows down and the music playing. You are having fun and just enjoying the nice day. So, when your phone starts to buzz alerting you to a text or a call, you don't even think as you lift the phone to answer. A moment later, your heart is beating fast but you are no worse for wear. You were lucky this time. In that momentary lapse of attention, your car had drifted off the road and you only just managed to put the phone down to swing your wheels back into the lane. 

The Facts, Stats, and Scare Tactics

Distracted driving has been a rising menace as cell phones have become more popular among people, and texting has become the new norm for communication. These mini-computers, we call smart-phones, are changing the game when people get behind the wheel.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in both 2014 and 2015 a terrifying 10% of all crash fatalities were tied back to distracted driving.[1] That is more than 6,000 people killed from distracted driving alone in just 2 years. Let's put that in simpler terms. For every ten people who die in a car accident, one of them died because of distracted driving. 

What is Distracted Driving?

Simply put, distracted driving is any visual, manual, or cognitive distraction that takes your attention away from the road.[2] A common association is texting while driving because it distracts you via all three methods. When you text, your hands are on the keys, your eyes are on the screen, and your mind is on the message. However, keep in mind that other common distractions include talking on a phone, eating in the car, talking to another passenger, singing along to music, playing with your GPS, and more.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list drivers under the age of 20 as having the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes[3], but just because you are over the age of 20 doesn't mean you are safe from a distracted driving incident. Being older doesn't magically make your mind more accustomed to distraction.

An article in the Washington Post from 2012 identified that teen drivers are texting just like their parents.[4] Their studies of PewResearch data showed that 15% of young drivers have seen their parents text while driving, and 48% of 12-17 age children have been in a car while the driver was texting. Those figures are not meant to scare readers, so much as open their eyes to the fact that adults are distracted drivers too.

The Effect of Distracted Driving on Insurance

Adults affect the insurance industry just as much as teens do, especially in the commercial industry where teens are still an outlier. In addition to personal auto insurance, adults affect both business auto insurance and workers compensation. When an adult  gets into a motor vehicle crash their company's workers compensation might take over some coverage costs when the accident occurs on-the-job. This even includes when the person is using a personal vehicle, but when the vehicle is owned by the company, they also take a hit against their auto liability for repairs to the vehicle. Demonstrating the fact that adult drivers are also to blame for rising rates within the insurance industry.

Now here is something scary, according to the National Safety Council®, car crashes are the number one cause of workplace deaths.[5] To help curb this risk, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recorded trends in crashes involving mobile phones and issued new rules in 2012 to fine and penalize Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) drivers for distracted driving.[6]

The FMCSA defines distracted driving as reaching, holding, dialing, texting, and/or reading a mobile device.[7] They also have separate rules defining the use of a mobile phone as using at least one hand to hold it while making a call, dialing a number by pressing more than a single button, or reaching for the phone in a manner that causes the driver to move from their seated driving position.[8]

Hands-Free Isn't Distraction Free

These rules make the use of hands-free technology very popular because it may comply with FMSCA regulation. Some of these hands-free devices can include earpiece speakers, hands-free dialing, voice-to-text, or hands-free mode. When using any of these methods, one should keep in mind that the mobile device should be within close proximity to the driver, and the dangers still associated with the use of such technology. Another thing to keep in mind, these forms of communication are still a distraction. When talking hands-free, drivers can miss seeing up to 50% of what is around them.[9]

Prevent Distracted Driving

Some ways to help prevent distracted driving with the use of cellphones are disabling apps, the simple action of putting it behind your seat, silencing the phone, or even turning it off. For commercial companies, there are a number of disabling apps and telematics devices to assist with controls on cellphone usage.

When it comes to distracted driving, don't put yourself and others at risk for something that can wait. The text can wait, the call can go to voicemail, and nothing is important enough to search on the internet while on the road. Put the devices away and focus on getting to your destination safely. It's not just about insurance, it's about saving lives.

Learn more about State Auto's Distracted Driving Awareness initiative here.

  1. https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812219
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/distracted_driving/
  3. Ibid, Risk Factors
  4. "Teen drivers are texting, just like their parents," Ashley Halsey III, Washington Post, May 2012
  5. http://www.nsc.org/learn/NSC-Initiatives/Pages/distracted-driving-down-distraction-infographic.aspx
  6. https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/rulemaking/2010-23861
  7. http://www.truckingtruth.com/trucking_blogs/Article-3826/distracted-driving-for-truck-drivers
  8. ibid
  9. http://www.nsc.org/learn/NSC-Initiatives/Pages/distracted-driving-hands-free-is-not-risk-free-infographic.aspx


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