Last updated: March 2023

The Ultimate Guide to Distracted Driving

Did you know that roughly nine people in the United States are killed each day in accidents that are reported to involve a distracted driver?1It is a serious problem, and all drivers should be aware of how distracted driving behaviors affect everyone on the road. Direct Auto has put together this guide to help you learn more about driving distractions and distracted driving laws in the U.S. We’ll share stunning statistics, potential consequences of driving distracted, and some ways you can help prevent distracted driving.

What is distracted driving?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines distracted driving as anything that takes a driver’s attention away from safe driving, endangering the distracted driver, their passengers, other drivers, cyclists, and nearby pedestrians.

3 Types of Distracted Driving

Additionally, the NHTSA breaks down distracted driving into three different categories.

  1. Visual: Any distraction that leads the driver to take their eyes off the road
  2. Manual: Any distraction that leads the driver to take their hands off the steering wheel to perform another task.
  3. Cognitive: Any distraction that shifts the drivers’ mental focus from safe driving to another subject.

Examples of Distracted Driving

Distracted driving activities can take your attention away from the road just long enough to cause you or another person serious harm. Distractions come in many forms, but practically speaking, what do they look like? Some of the most common distracted driving behaviors include but are not limited to:

  • Texting
  • Talking on the phone (even hands-free devices)
  • Interacting with passengers
  • Using an infotainment or navigation system
  • Reading a map
  • Using a GPS
  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Grooming
  • Listening to music
  • Adjusting the radio or CD player

Distracted Driving Laws in the U.S.

Many distracted driving behaviors, like eating while behind the wheel, aren’t specifically outlawed by state legislation. However, these distracted driving behaviors can still lead to you being charged in another way, like if you were to cause an accident or run a stop sign because your attention isn’t where it should be.

One example of distracted driving that is outlawed to some extent in almost every state is hand-held device use. New York became the first state to ban hand-held phone calls for all drivers in 2001, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Since then, many states have followed suit, issuing various cell phone use restrictions. In fact, 24 states and Washington D.C. prohibit all drivers from using hand-held devices while driving. There are even more states that ban texting and driving and have serious restrictions in place for drivers under a certain age.

Distracted Driving Consequences

While you could be facing fines, points on your record, or even jail time depending on where you live, which offense it is, and what happened while you were driving distracted, the ultimate consequences of distracted driving are in the number of unnecessary accidents and lives lost.

Distracted Driving Statistics

The following distracted driving facts illustrate just how harmful it can be when you divert your attention from the road.

  • 3,142 people died in distracted driving-related crashes in 2019.2
  • More than 424,000 people were injured in a distracted driving-related crash in 2019.2
  • 15% of crashes with injuries, 15% of all crashes reported to the police, and 9% of all fatal crashes in 2019 were declared to be distraction-affected.2
  • 566 nonoccupants, such as pedestrians and cyclists, were killed in distraction-affected crashes in 2019 alone.2
  • Distraction-affected crashes cost $98 billion in 2019 alone.3

It is easy to become complacent about distracted driving when thousands of people drive distracted every day. These activities – like looking up directions on a smartphone app, talking to passengers, or even changing the radio station – may seem harmless, especially if you do them every day. But the truth is that they can be dangerous and may prevent you from being a fully alert driver. As the stats above show, they too often lead to injuries, loss of life, and significant financial damages.

Cell Phone Use: The Dangers of Texting and Driving or Talking and Driving

Any interaction with a phone can be dangerous when you’re operating a vehicle. Despite the prevalence of distracted driving laws in the U.S., cell phone use while driving appears to be quite prevalent as well. In fact, the NHTSA estimates 7.6% of drivers are using a phone, either hand-held or hands-free, at any daylight moment in the United States.

Texting While Driving Statistics

You may think sending a quick text has little to no effect on your ability to drive, but it’s riskier than you might realize. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. If you’re traveling 55 miles per hour, that’s like driving the entire length of a football field with your eyes closed.1 Here some other statistics that highlight just how dangerous and costly texting and driving can be.

  • Texting while driving can more the double the chances a driver is involved in a crash.4
  • One survey found that 49% of commuters admitted to texting and driving. This was a sharp increase from a few years ago when 60% of commuters polled said they never texted when driving. Additionally, 40% of those who admitted to texting and driving described their behavior as a habit.5

Talking is more dangerous than you might think.

It’s easy to think that talking on the phone while on the road isn't a big deal, but it’s actually just the opposite. Holding a conversation with someone can turn into a real distraction and take your attention away from the road. You aren’t giving either activity your full attention and are therefore posing a greater danger to yourself and others. Additionally, if you’re not driving hands-free, you don’t have both hands on the wheel.

“Hands-free” does not mean “risk-free.”

So, what about hands-free phone use? Even if you have both hands on the wheel, talking on the phone is still dangerous, according to an in-depth distracted driving paper put out by the National Safety Council. Here’s what they found:

“Drivers talking on hands-free cell phones are more likely to not see both high and low relevant objects, showing a lack of ability to allocate attention to the most important information. They miss visual cues critical to safety and navigation. They tend to miss exits, go through red lights and stop signs, and miss important navigational signage. Drivers on cell phones are less likely to remember the content of objects they looked at, such as billboards. Drivers not using cell phones were more likely to remember content.”

In other words, even if you don’t have the manual impairment holding a phone poses, you still are cognitively distracted.

Distracted Driving Prevention

Distracted driving is preventable, but it will take effort and practice. You need to first change the way you think about distracted driving, then make a conscious effort to change your behavior, and finally, encourage others to do the same.

Take a distracted driving pledge.

You can take the National Safety Council’s Just Drive Pledge and commit to avoid the following behaviors while driving:

  • Having phone or text conversations
  • Using voice-to-text features
  • Using any form of social media
  • Checking or sending emails
  • Taking photos of filming videos
  • Adjusting the GPS

Work together with friends and family.

Additionally, you should avoid calling or texting friends and loved ones when you know they’re driving, and you should make sure to speak up when someone is driving distracted while you’re in the car.

Driving while distracted is a problem for everyone, but there are some different things to be aware of depending on your age. For example, teenagers are highly prone to distracted driving behaviors, making it important for them to speak out and hold each other accountable. Meanwhile, parents, teachers, and other adult leaders need to be particularly aware that kids are always watching what they do, making it crucial to set a good example behind the wheel.

It’s hard to break old habits, so you'll need to make conscious choices about your behavior in the car and be honest with yourself and others. If you catch yourself in a distracted moment or see a friend or loved one driving distracted, vocalize that it can wait or pull over safely if it’s an emergency.

After all, a missed text message, turn, or loose object rolling around on the floor is not worth a traffic ticket, fender bender, or major car accident.

Participate in Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) designated April “Distracted Driving Awareness Month,” an important step in distracted driving prevention. It is meant to encourage drivers to become aware of the ways in which they may be driving unsafely and pledge to avoid driving distracted to protect themselves as well as passengers and bystanders.

Throughout the month you may see the NHTSA promote its U Drive. U Text. U Pay. campaign. It is designed to remind drivers about how dangerous distracted driving can be. Also, don’t be surprised to see an increased number of police officers enforcing hand-held device laws where you live.

Get covered with Direct Auto!

Safe driving isn’t limited to pledging to avoid distracted driving habits – it also includes making sure you have adequate car insurance coverage to stay legal and financially protected on the road. Direct Auto is here to help. For a free auto insurance quote or to learn more about affordable coverage, call 1-877-GO-DIRECTvisit our website, or visit a Direct Auto location near you.

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