Between 2005 and 2017, NHTSA data states that 53,714 people were killed as a result of distracted driving accidents.
However, fatal crashes are only a small fraction of total distracted driving accidents.
While the NHTSA did not release total accident data involving distraction in their latest report, they did release it for 2016. According to 2016 NHTSA distracted driving statistics there were 319,000 distracted accidents that resulted in injury and another 681,000 crashes that resulted in property damage only.
Between 2011 and 2016, these estimates work out to 1.71 million distracted driving injuries and 3.73 million property damage accidents.
What are American drivers’ attitudes toward distracted driving?
According to a 2018 study by the American Association of Automobiles on traffic safety, distracted driving is an important issue for drivers – but their words don’t match their actions.
- 75% support laws against holding or talking on a phone while driving.
- 88% support a law against reading, typing, or texting/emailing while driving.
However, at least once in the past 30 days:
- 52.1% admitted to talking on a phone while driving.
- 41.3% admitted to reading a text/email.
- 32.1% admitted to typing a text/email
What is Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving refers to the act of driving while engaging in any other activities. This includes any act that is taking your attention away from the road, even if only for a few short seconds.
There are three main types of distractions:
Impeding your vision or taking your eyes off the road
Taking your hands off the wheel
Taking your mind off your driving or the road
Many instances of distracted driving are a combination of one or more types.
Texting while driving, for example, is especially dangerous as it combines all three types (visual, manual, cognitive) of distraction (Vegega, Jones, & Monk, 2013). When you send or read a text message, you take your eyes off the road for about 5 seconds – those few seconds are long enough to cover the full length a football field if you are driving at 55 mph (NHTSA, 2019). Clearly, diverting your attention away from your driving can have dire consequences and greatly increase your chances of being involved in a motor vehicle crash.
Cell Phone Use While Driving is the Most Dangerous Distracted Driving Behavior
According to The National Safety Council, cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes every year. They estimate nearly 400,000 people were injured in 2015 due to distracted driving. Dialing a phone is one of the most dangerous distractions. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (2016) found that dialing while driving increased a driver's chance of crashing by 12 times and reading or writing increased the risk of crashing by 10 times.Even with hands-free cell phone devices, talking hands-free still makes drivers much more likely to be involved in a crash than waiting until the drive is over. Using hands-free devices is still 4 times more distracting than talking to a passenger.
If you don’t engage in texting, using your cell phone can still be dangerous. Looking up directions to your destination or checking the traffic conditions while driving can also be incredibly distracting and extremely unsafe.
Twenty-five percent of drivers used a cell phone right before being involved in a crash.
(Chicago Tribune, 2017)
- Drivers are 12.2 times more likely to crash while driving and dialing a cellphone.
- At any given moment of the day in America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or other electronic devices while driving (NOPUS, 2016).
The bar chart below shows the distribution of the age of drivers in fatal crashes involving cell phone use in 2017.
According to the figure, drivers aged 20-29 had by far the highest incidence of cell phone use in fatal crashes.
Other Distracted Driving Facts You Should be Aware of:
Cellphones aren’t the only distraction facing drivers. Driving with children in the car, chatting with passengers, eating food, grooming, reaching for a dropped object, swatting at a fly – anything that takes your eyes off the road for even a second or two – is considered a driving distraction.
In a study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (2016), driver-related factors (i.e., driver error, impairment, fatigue, and/or distraction) were present in almost 90% of crashes.
It is also important to note that distracted driving in the U.S. may be under-reported because not only do many state crash report forms not have a specific field or code on their forms for certain types of distraction (National Safety Council, 2017), but drivers are often unwilling to report that the reason for their accident is distraction related.
Statistics on Distracted Driving-Related Fatalities
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA, 2015), driver distraction is a leading factor in fatal driver related crashes and occurs when drivers divert their attention away from activities that are critical for safe driving.
How many fatalities are caused by distracted driving every year?
According to the NHTSA, 9% of all fatal crashes in 2017 were reported as distraction-affected crashes, resulting in 3,166 fatalities due to distracted driving.
Between 2012-2017, nearly 20,000 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver.
Distracted Driver Occupant Type
Texting while driving is especially problematic among younger drivers. In 2017 alone, 8% of people killed in teen-involved driving crashes died when teen drivers (those age 15-19) were distracted at the time of the crash.
According to NHTSA, young drivers 16- to 24-years-old have been observed using handheld electronic devices while driving at higher rates than older drivers since 2007.
One in three teens who text say they have done so while driving (NHTSA, 2018).
More than 58% of teen crashes are due to driver distraction. In fact, a teen driver is 4 times more likely than an adult to get into a car crash when talking or texting on a cell phone.
Having a passenger in the car doubles the risk of a teen having an accident due to distraction; with 2 or more passengers, that number rises to 5 times more likely to have an accident.
Teens in the 16 to 19 age group are 3 times more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash than any other group; car crashes are, in fact, the number 1 killer of teens in the U.S.
For all fatal crashes, 6% of the drivers involved were 15 to 19 years old (3,255 of the 52,274). Sixteen percent of all the distracted drivers using cell phones in fatal crashes were 15 to 19 years old (63 of the 404 distracted fatal crashes due to cellphone use).
Men are more than twice as likely than women to engage in distracting behavior such as watching a video while driving (Consumer Reports, 2017), while women are more likely to fix their appearance (Finder.com, 2018).
Men are also more likely than females to drive under the influence, with 3.5% men admitting to this risky behavior versus 2.5% women.
In 2017, 60% of distracted drivers in fatal crashes were male.
One in three female drivers admitted to taking photos while driving (The Zebra, 2019).
Nearly half (45%) of employees in one survey reported they felt pressured to respond to emails while driving.
In the same survey, over a third (38%) of employees said they felt pressure to answer phone calls, while 34% said they felt pressure to respond to a text.
In the 18 to 34 age group, 37% of respondents felt a high degree of pressure to respond to work-related messages while driving, compared to 25% of the national average among all age groups (The Zebra, 2019).
Distracted Pedestrians and Accidents Stats
A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (2016) found that crash risk increased 10-fold when drivers were visibly angry or crying.
Driving with pets can be a distraction, too. In fact, 65% of dog owners state that driving with their pet as a passenger is distracting.
Being “lost in thought” is also a major problem when it comes to distracted driving: 62% of those involved in distraction-affected accidents reported this as the cause leading up to their crash.
Eating and drinking – particularly messy foods like tacos and hamburgers – contributed to driver distraction related accidents 80% of the time.
While recent studies have found that parents also engage in distracted driving behaviors, other, perhaps far more important studies have found that driving with children is itself one of the greatest distractions of all.
Parents with young children were more likely to be distracted while driving (87%) than were adults with no small children (74%).
A study by Australian researchers found that children in the car are 12 times more distracting than talking a cell phone.
While parents do not intentionally put their children in danger, they do tend to take their eyes off the road more often to tend to their children’s needs.
Men are more likely to speed, with 31.9% of male drivers reporting they engage in this behavior compared to 28.4% of female drivers who admit to speeding.
Friends In Car With Driver
Passengers can be a source of distraction especially for teens - 20% of female and 24% of male teens who crashed said they were distracted by passengers just before the crash occurred (DriveTeam, 2017).
Passengers can also be a distraction to drivers when they hand passengers objects such as food, a cellphone, purse, or any other item, and can cause a driver to take his or her hands off the wheel or eyes off the road.
Distracted Pedestrians and Accidents Stats
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT, 2016) found that pedestrian fatalities increased by 492, a 9.0-percent increase. The 2016 pedestrian fatality count (5,987) is the highest number since 1990.
The IIHS (2017) reported that since 2009, pedestrian fatalities have risen 46%, with nearly 6,000 people struck and killed in 2016.
Distractions, particularly those due to use of electronic devices, are the number three cause of pedestrian fatalities (Active Transportation Alliance, 2018).
According to a study published in 2012 by researchers from New York’s Stony Brook University, 60% of people texting while walking veered off course.
In 2017, there were 599 nonoccupants (pedestrians, bicyclists, and others) killed in distraction-affected crashes (NHTSA, 2018).
In 2017, more than 16% of all traffic deaths were pedestrians (Injury Facts, 2017). The National Safety Council (2018) warns all pedestrians about the dangers of distracted walking, the need to use crosswalks, and the importance of wearing bright and/or reflective clothing at night.
Other Things to Consider About Distracted Driving
It is important to note that, despite these stark statistics about distracted driving, its impact on traffic safety may actually be under-reported. Many state crash report forms not have a specific field or code on their forms for certain types of distraction.
In minor accidents where collisions are usually self-reported, drivers are often unwilling to report that the reason for their accident is distraction related.
What can I do to minimize distracted driving?
As a Driver:
- Obey all traffic laws, especially posted speed limits.
- Watch for pedestrians, particularly in parking lots and intersections.
- Do not drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. After alcohol, marijuana is the second most common substance people use while driving.
As a Pedestrian:
- Be aware of your surroundings. Keep your head up and your phone down while walking.
- Remember that pedestrian safety is a shared responsibility. Don’t assume that just because you are the pedestrian you have the right of way and that it is the driver’s responsibility to see you.
In order to prevent distracted driving, the DOT recommends that drivers:
- Turn off electronic devices and put them out of reach before starting to drive.
- Be good role models for young drivers and set a good example. Talk with your teens about responsible driving.
- Speak up when you are a passenger and your driver uses an electronic device while driving. Offer to make the call for the driver, so his or her full attention stays on the driving task.
- Engaging in any kind of emotional conversation can be especially distracting; save those discussions for later.