Distracted Driving Facts & Statistics 2024

Modern technology and convenience are now causing a huge problem for drivers everywhere. In the few seconds it takes to look at a text, computer screen or GPS, drivers enter the state now commonly called distracted driving. Distracted driving is making the news frequently, as the motorized vehicle crash rate, injuries and fatalities from this problem continue to rise. Distraction while driving includes any activity that takes your attention away from driving. This includes texting, but also many other common activities people engage in while driving.

The problem for many drivers, especially the younger and more inexperienced ones, is that the urge to communicate immediately is almost irresistible. This is why it is smartest to turn off those attractive attention-grabbing devices like cell phones and computers while you are driving. When there is no “bait” there is no “bite” and those temptations can be easily resisted.

California vs. National Statistics

Distracted driving remains a pervasive issue in the United States, contributing to numerous accidents, injuries, and fatalities each year. Both California and the nation as a whole face significant challenges in addressing this dangerous behavior. Comparing the statistics between California and national figures highlights the severity of the problem and the efforts needed to mitigate it.

National Statistics on Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is a major cause of motor vehicle accidents across the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving claimed 3,142 lives in 2019 alone. This form of driving includes activities such as texting, talking on the phone, eating, and using in-car technologies, all of which divert attention from the road.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that each day in the U.S., approximately 8 people are killed and over 1,000 injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. Young drivers, particularly those under the age of 20, are the most susceptible to distractions. In 2018, 9% of all teens who died in car crashes were killed in accidents involving distracted driving.

California Statistics on Distracted Driving

California mirrors national trends but also has its own distinctive patterns due to its large population and extensive road network. The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) provides detailed insights into distracted driving within the state. In 2020, distracted driving was responsible for 9% of all fatal collisions in California. This statistic reflects a slight improvement from previous years, but the problem remains significant.

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A study by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) indicated that drivers aged 20 to 29 are most frequently involved in distracted driving incidents. Moreover, the use of mobile phones while driving is a critical concern. Despite strict laws prohibiting handheld phone use and texting while driving, many drivers continue to engage in these behaviors. In 2020, law enforcement issued over 55,000 citations for violations related to distracted driving.

Comparing California to National Trends

When comparing California to national statistics, several key points emerge:

  1. Fatalities and Injuries:
    • Nationally, distracted driving accounts for approximately 8.7% of all fatal crashes. In California, the rate is slightly lower but still significant at 9%.
    • The national daily average of 8 deaths and over 1,000 injuries underscores the widespread impact of distracted driving. California, with its large population, contributes a substantial share to these figures.
  2. Demographics:
    • Both California and national data indicate that young drivers are particularly at risk. Nationally, 9% of teen driving fatalities involve distractions. In California, young drivers also represent a high-risk group for distracted driving incidents.
  3. Law Enforcement and Compliance:
    • California has some of the strictest laws against distracted driving, including fines and points on a driver’s record for violations. Despite this, compliance remains a challenge, as evidenced by the high number of citations issued annually.
    • Nationally, laws vary significantly by state, with some states having more lenient regulations. This variability affects the overall national compliance and enforcement landscape.
  4. Technological Impact:
    • The proliferation of smartphones and in-car technologies has exacerbated the problem of distracted driving both in California and across the country. Efforts to curb this include public awareness campaigns and technological solutions such as apps that disable phones while driving.

Efforts to Reduce Distracted Driving

Efforts to combat distracted driving include legislative measures, technological innovations, and public education campaigns. In California, initiatives such as the “Put Your Phone Down. Just Drive” campaign aim to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. The state also utilizes high-visibility enforcement campaigns to catch and deter violators.

Nationally, organizations like the NHTSA and the CDC work to educate the public about the risks of distracted driving. Campaigns such as “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” highlight the financial and legal consequences of distracted driving.

Distracted Driving & Liability

What is most disturbing about this situation is that it is completely avoidable, if only people would turn off their phones or stop somewhere to use these devices. Driving while texting or using a computer is negligent behavior and makes drivers liable for accidents that may occur while they are distracted. It causes billions of dollars in economic damage in addition to the human injury and fatality factors.

If you are found liable for accident claims because you were behaving in a negligent manner by not giving full attention to your driving, you and your insurance company will pay a big price for that indiscretion. You may also lose your driver license and have future insurance costs skyrocket. If you are also injured or killed, you and your survivors will have expenses that are not covered by your insurance company because your behavior caused the accident.

5 Seconds Makes a Difference

People who text while driving believe that they will not be affected by this activity. In reality, the average time it takes to read a text is just 5 seconds. However, in just 5 seconds, a car traveling at 55 miles per hour will cover the distance of a football field, 300 feet. A lot can happen in that short time span, especially if a driver is not paying full attention to the road ahead and possible hazards. It is just like driving blindfolded for that length of time and distance.

If you are distracted even for 5 seconds, you can run a light or stop sign, not see the car ahead of you making a turn, not see a motorcyclist trying to pass you, miss your exit, enter a turn too fast or have any number of other mistakes happen that result in an injury accident. Every second counts when you are driving a motor vehicle; you do not get a chance to do-over once the error is made.

Everyone is at Risk

Government statistics on distracted driving in recent years have shown a consistent and troubling trend:

  • People Killed in Distracted Driving Accidents: In 2023, there were 3,150 fatalities due to distracted driving, reflecting the ongoing danger posed by this behavior.
  • Injuries from Distracted Driving Accidents: Approximately 424,000 individuals were injured in crashes involving distracted drivers.
  • Drivers Using Cell Phones or Other Electronic Devices While Driving: At any given moment during daylight hours, around 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or electronic devices while driving. Texting remains particularly hazardous, diverting attention from the road more than other activities.
  • Crash Risk: The risk of a crash increases by 23% when drivers are texting while driving, highlighting the significant danger of this specific distraction.
  • Younger Drivers: Drivers under the age of 20 are at the highest risk from distracted driving. In surveys, 25% admitted to texting at least once every time they drive, and 20% reported engaging in extended texting conversations while driving. Nearly half of teen drivers aged 16-18 admitted to texting or emailing while driving.

Additionally, a 2021 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that:

  • Talking on Cell Phones: 69% of U.S. drivers aged 18-64 reported talking on their cell phones while driving within the 30 days preceding the survey.
  • Texting or Emailing: 31% of these drivers admitted to reading or sending texts or emails while driving at least once during the same period.

Another concerning trend is the correlation between distracted driving and other risky behaviors among teens, such as drinking and driving. Teens who drive while distracted are more likely to engage in other dangerous activities, including driving under the influence or riding with drivers who have been drinking.

These statistics underscore the urgent need for continued education, enforcement of distracted driving laws, and the development of technologies to reduce the incidence of distracted driving.

Driver Distractions

Many types of activities people do while they are driving are distractions, even if the activity only takes a few seconds. The main problem is that doing these other things requires some or all of the driver’s visual, manual and cognitive attention, and this is what makes distracted driving so dangerous. Texting requires all three modes of attention, making it the worse type of distraction. Distracted driving is dangerous not only to the driver and their passengers, but also to other drivers, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians.

Activities people engage in while they are driving a motorized vehicle include:

  • Using a cell phone or smartphone
  • Texting
  • Talking to other people in the vehicle
  • Grooming
  • Reading
  • Using GPS systems for navigation or reading maps
  • Using a portable computer or other electronic device
  • Playing computer games
  • Watching a video program
  • Adjusting the radio, a CD player or MP3 player

Texting While Driving Facts

Many groups are compiling statistics about distracted driving. The U.S. government has a website devoted to this subject, www.distraction.gov. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) also tracks these statistics. This subject is being widely covered recently on television news programs as well. Both government studies indicate that fatalities due to distracted driving have decreased slightly over time between 2012 and 2013, about 6.7%, but injury rates are rising at a faster rate, up 9% from 2011 to 2012.

In the public domain, some organizations founded by parents of teens killed by distracted driving have publicized this problem. They also are offering some new solutions, like automatic message returns that lock down a cell phone and send out a message that the driver cannot talk at that moment because they are operating a vehicle.

The facts related to texting while driving accidents are stunning, with the highest incidence for teen drivers, but also involving people of all ages. Parents set an example for teens; if parents drive and use cell phones or text while driving, the chances are highly increased that their teen drivers will do the same things.

According to the CDC study, during the month of December 2012, over 171 billion text messages were sent or received in the United States. The CDC studied several other countries, but the US rates for texting while driving far exceeded rates for all those other countries. For drivers ages 18-54 in the U.S., over 31% admitted to reading or sending text or email messages while driving at least once in the month prior to the survey.  Cell phone use was much higher, at 69% in the U.S.

Accident Rates – Distracted Driving

Accident rates from distracted driving are not a surprise when you consider a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that at any given daylight moment across the U.S., 660,000 people are driving while using hand held electronic devices or cell phones. It appears that the fatality rates are going down slightly, but the injury rates are increasing at a faster rate. Despite ongoing educational efforts to publicize the dangers of distracted driving, people continue to be irresistibly attracted to their electronic devices like cell phones and using text/email messaging.

Another study by the Vermont Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) I reports that when drivers engage in these activities (reaching for a phone, dialing or texting) using hand-held devices, they are three times more likely to get into a crash. This report also said that talking on a cell phone did not present a problem; it is the act of dialing, reaching for the phone and looking at it that caused the increased risk.

  • Teen Drivers – NHTSA found that among drivers under age 20, 10% who were involved in a fatal crash were distracted at that time of their crash. This age group had the highest number of distracted drivers. About 27% of distracted drivers in the NHTSA study were in their 20s. Almost half of U.S. high school drivers over age 16 text or email while they are driving.
  • Fatal Crashes – In 2012, 3,328 people, about 9 per day, were killed in distracted driving accidents across the U.S., according to the CDC. The numbers decreased slightly in 2013 to 3,154 fatalities, but were up again in 2014 to 3,179.
  • Injuries – In 2013, over 421,000, or about 1,153 people daily were injured in distracted driving crashes. This is a small decrease from 424,000 in 2012. In 2011, about one in five crashes were injury accidents that involved distracted driving.

Safety Efforts to Reduce Distracted Driving Accident Rate

Nationwide, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, as of January 2015, 44 states have banned text messaging for drivers. Some have a created a graduated driver license program for teens to help them learn about the dangers of distracted driving. Whether or not these laws are effective is still in the study phase. In some areas, police departments are conducting special runs to look specifically for drivers who are texting or using cell phones. They look for people who are driving with their chin down on their chest, obviously looking at a hand-held device. Tickets for these offenses can be very steep, such as $100 for a first offense, and then $200 for the second.

  • Nationwide, Federal employees have been prohibited from texting while they are driving on government business or using government equipment.
  • The Federal Railroad Administration has banned employees from using cell phones and other electronic devices.
  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has also banned commercial vehicle drivers from texting while driving. In conjunction with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, commercial drivers and those drivers carrying hazardous materials also are banned from using all hand-held cell phones.
  • Local and national TV news stations are running messages and stories about the dangers of distracted driving, to help educate the public about this problem.

California Data

Of the 44 states that have already banned the use of hand-held cell phones and texting while driving, California has enacted very strong laws to combat distracted driving. As a large state with hundreds of thousands of lane miles, California continues to have very high numbers of distracted drivers.

  • The California Department of Motor Vehicles reported over 426,000 handheld cell phone and texting convictions during 2013. In April of that year, over 57,000 tickets were issued for this offense.
  • In a 2014 survey, over 50% of Californians said texting while driving is the most serious type of distracted driving. In that same California Traffic Safety Survey, almost 53% admitted they made a mistake driving when they were talking on a cell phone.
  • In the 2014 CTS Survey, 61% of California drivers said they were either hit or nearly hit by a driver who was texting or talking on a cell phone.
  • A statewide observational survey found that distracted driving related to use of electronic devices by California drivers decreased down from 7.4% in 2013 to 6.4% in 2014.

California has taken a strong approach to this problem in their Primary and Secondary laws. They have enacted a handheld ban that applies to drivers of all ages. All cell phone use, including hands-free, is banned for bus drivers and novice drivers (novice: under age 18). Texting is also banned for all drivers.

Some states allow drivers to have cell phones, GPS units and other electronic devices if those items are not hand-held, but instead permanently installed on the vehicle. This still contributes to the problem of distracted driving, as drivers are forced to look away from the road ahead and touch the keypads or screens to use those devices.

Strong laws and strict enforcement of those laws, in conjunction with widespread publicity about the hazards of distracted driving are helping to reduce the fatality rates related to driving while distracted, but accident rates continue to grow higher. It is an on-going problem for everyone.

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If an accident or deliberate harmful behavior caused by distracted driving injured you, or death to a loved one, it is time to take action and fight back.

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References

  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – Distracted Driving
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Distracted Driving
  3. California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) – Distracted Driving
  4. California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) – Distracted Driving