Distracted driving statistics 2021

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Whether using your cell phone, eating or talking to passengers, distracted driving is a significant hazard to everyone on the road. 3,142 people were killed in fatal distracted driving accidents in 2019, making this the cause of 8.7% of all crash fatalities that year, according to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration. (NHTSA) On top of that, approximately 280,000 others will be injured each year due to road distractions. The statistics paint a picture of how devastating the results can be when we drive while preoccupied.

Distracted driving key facts

  • 3,142 people were killed by distracted driving in 2019. (NHTSA)
  • 8.7% of all car crash fatalities were due to distracted driving in 2019.
  • 25% of distracted drivers in fatal crashes are between the ages of 20 and 29. (CDC)
  • 48 states and the District of Columbia have cell phone bans to combat distracted driving.

Distracted driving deaths per year

Distracted driving causes about 3,000 deaths per year: 3,142 deaths in 2019, 2,628 deaths in 2018 and 3,003 deaths in 2017, according to the NHTSA.

Additionally, distracted driving causes about 280,000 injuries per year: 276,000 injuries in 2018, 285,000 injuries in 2017 and 295,000 injuries in 2016.

Lastly, distracted driving causes about 920,000 total accidents per year (including fatalities and injuries): 938,000 accidents in 2018, 912,000 accidents in 2017, and 905,000 accidents in 2016.

Table of contents

What is distracted driving?

In its simplest form, distracted driving includes any kind of activity that takes your attention away from the road when you are behind the wheel. While most people associate distracted driving with cell phone use — certainly a significant contributor — distracted driving encompasses numerous behaviors like using your phone, turning around and even eating while driving in some cases.

Distracted driving types

Distractions fall into several main types of categories:

  • Visual distractions cause you to move your eyes away from the road, like turning to talk to a passenger or child in the back seat.
  • Auditory distractions are sounds that cause your attention to shift, like listening to music or conversations among passengers.
  • Manual distractions happen when your hands move away from the wheel, like eating, drinking or using electronics.
  • Cognitive distractions happen when your mind wanders and you are no longer focused on driving, like when you’re preoccupied with strong emotions or too tired to drive.

Distracted driving behaviors

Many behaviors fit into the category of “distracted driving,” so it’s important that you know the difference between a legal distraction and a personal distraction before you get behind the wheel. Here are some of the most common distraction behaviors:

  • Texting while driving or having an in-depth phone conversation
  • Eating and drinking
  • Smoking
  • Applying makeup
  • Turning to grab items from the back seat
  • Turning to face a passenger in the back seat
  • Carrying on a conversation with a passenger
  • Using electronics, like a GPS or sound system
  • Focusing on the rear-view mirror

When drivers are not paying attention, they fail to comprehend or process information from objects in the roadway, even when looking at them. In other words, when you are distracted, your brain and visual processing are not working together.

Distracted driving statistics over time

While we may think of distracted driving as a newer problem as more technology is available to us in our vehicles, it has occurred for years.

In April 2006, a study released by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the NHTSA found that almost 80% of crashes and 65% of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds of the event. The study goes on to find the most common distraction was phone use, followed by drowsiness. Interestingly, the study noted that cell phone use was far less likely to cause the crash versus other distractions. Reaching for a moving object increased the risk nine times, whereas talking on the cell phone increased the risk by only 1.3 times. This study is one of the first to look at the effects of distracted driving.

Also in 2006, the University of Utah concluded that talking on a cellphone while driving was as dangerous as drunk driving. The study was challenged because it did not show that hands-free cell phone use lessened the likelihood of a crash.

According to historical data from 2010 to 2018, the number of fatalities from distracted driving appears to have decreased. However, when you compare the number of distracted driving accidents in total to the overall number of crashes, distracted driving has remained a steady contributor, causing between 14% to 17% of all crashes.

Year Distracted driving deaths Distracted driving accidents
2019 2,895 986,000
2018 2,645 938,000
2017 3,003 912,000
2016 3,197 905,000
2015 3,242 885,000
2014 2,972 967,000
2013 2,910 904,000
2012 3,098 908,000
2011 3,047 826,000
2010 2,993 900,000

Source: NHTSA Studies: 2018 and 2013

Risk factors

When looking through the data surrounding distracted driving, a few key risk factors begin to emerge:

  • Age: While the popular assumption is that teens are the most distracted, the data indicates otherwise. Fatal crashes caused by distraction were highest among 20 to 29-year-old drivers, vs. just 9% by drivers aged 15 – 19.
  • Passengers: Research shows that limiting the number of passengers with teen drivers reduces the number of fatalities. A national study of teen drivers showed that fatal crashes were 21% lower when zero passengers were present and 7% lower when only one passenger was allowed. This was compared to when two passengers are present, according to Graduated Licensing Laws and Fatal Crashes of Teenage Drivers: A National Study.

State distracted driving laws

Unfortunately, distracted driving has many consequences, including fines, points against your license, license suspension and even jail time if you cause a crash.

Most states only have legislation that bans the use of cell phones while driving instead of broader distracted driving bans. 24 states have bans against using handheld devices while driving, 20 totally ban all cell phone use while driving, and 48 ban texting specifically. The states that don’t ban texting while behind the wheel are Missouri and Montana.

However, just because there may not be an explicit ban on eating or applying makeup while driving in your state, that doesn’t mean you can’t get in trouble for it. You can receive a secondary violation in several states if an officer sees you committing a primary violation (like running a red light) while distracted and pulls you over. Remember that police always have the power to issue a ticket for dangerous or reckless driving if your behavior constitutes it, so your safest bet is to simply not drive while distracted.

How distracted driving impacts car insurance rates

In some states, like Kansas, the police can charge you with reckless driving if you are distracted. This type of charge could make it difficult when applying for a job and certainly can affect you when shopping for car insurance, potentially causing your car insurance rates to increase.

On a national level, distracted driving has caused insurance premiums to increase 16% since 2011, according to The Center for Policy and Research.

Distracted driving can easily cause accidents or even cause you to put a little more pressure on the gas. And driving while intoxicated can certainly cause distractions. According to data obtained from Quadrant Information Services, here’s how several common incidents can affect your car insurance rates.

Driving record Average annual full coverage car insurance premium
Clean driving record $1,674
DUI conviction $3,139
Accident $2,311
Speeding ticket $2,062

Distracted driving prevention

As eye-opening as the distracted driving statistics may be for some, it is helpful to understand there are actions you can take to prevent distracted driving, including:

  • Put your phone away. If you need to talk or text, pull over and complete your call.
  • Use a designated “texter.” If you are driving with someone, have a passenger assigned to read and send your text messages.
  • Limit the number of passengers you allow in your vehicle.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while driving.
  • No multitasking. Make a promise not to multitask and stick to it.
  • Properly secure your kids and pets. Make sure everyone is properly buckled in and restrained, not only for their safety, but to prevent distraction.
  • Program navigation beforehand. Before you hit the road, put your destination into your GPS prior to driving.
  • Encourage others not to text and drive. If you see someone texting and driving, speak up and encourage them to put the phone away.
  • Talk with your employer. Let your employer know you need to limit your phone conversations and texting while driving.
  • Refrain from distracting tasks. Avoid the temptation of activities such as grooming, reading and applying makeup.

Methodology

Bankrate utilizes Quadrant Information Services to analyze 2021 rates for all ZIP codes and carriers in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Quoted rates are based on a 40-year-old male and female driver with a clean driving record, good credit and the following full coverage limits:

  • $100,000 bodily injury liability per person
  • $300,000 bodily injury liability per accident
  • $50,000 property damage liability per accident
  • $100,000 uninsured motorist bodily injury per person
  • $300,000 uninsured motorist bodily injury per accident
  • $500 collision deductible
  • $500 comprehensive deductible

To determine minimum coverage limits, Bankrate used minimum coverages that meet each state’s requirements. Our base profile drivers own a 2019 Toyota Camry, commute five days a week and drive 12,000 miles annually.

These are sample rates and should only be used for comparative purposes.

Incident: Rates were calculated by evaluating our base profile with the following incidents applied: clean record (base), at-fault accident, single speeding ticket, single DUI conviction and lapse in coverage.

Written by
Sara Coleman
Insurance Contributor
Sara Coleman has three years of experience in writing for insurance domains such as Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, Reviews.com, Coverage.com and numerous other personal finance sites. She writes about insurance products such as auto, homeowners, renters and disability.
Edited by
Insurance Editor