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Distracted driving

Man talking on phone while driving © Minerva Studio/
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Driving while distracted by something like texting on your phone or playing with the radio can not only attract the cops and get you pulled over, it can also compromise your safety and that of others around you. Every day, an average of 8 people are killed in a crash that involves distracted driving. And although when many people hear “distracted driving” they think teens – adult motorists are not without blame.

When distracted driving results in a traffic violation, it can impact your driving record and have long-term effects on your car insurance rates. To be able to make the right decision after being charged with distracted driving, it’s a good idea to know some of the behaviors that may potentially lead to such a violation.

What is distracted driving?

Distracted driving is any activity that impairs your ability to focus on the road. Examples of distractions include:

  • Texting while driving
  • Talking on the phone
  • Playing music loudly
  • Fidgeting with the car’s stereo/climate controls
  • Talking to someone in the car
  • Eating
  • Putting on makeup
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol or drugs
  • Sleep deprivation

Not surprisingly, distracted driving is on the rise. Insurance expert Laura Adams remarks, “Thanks to smartphones, texting and social media, car accidents resulting from distracted driving are on the rise. We often think that teens are the only drivers who engage in dangerous behaviors behind the wheel, but older drivers are just as susceptible.”

What makes distracted driving so dangerous is how it impacts our ability to drive. For example, drivers focusing on their phones more than the road might not see someone stop abruptly, resulting in delayed reaction time and an accident.

Moreover, juggling multiple things at one time does not give drivers clear situational awareness meaning they could be making judgment calls based on incomplete information. This, coupled with delayed reaction times, can result in more accidents.

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Distracted driving statistics

Unfortunately, distracted driving can have tragic consequences. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports that in 2019, 3,142 people died as a result of distracted driving, up from 2,841 lives lost in 2018.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states when you look down to text or read a text for five seconds at 55 miles per hour, it is the same as driving across a football field without looking at the road. What makes this illustration even more troublesome is that in 2019, 39% of high school students admitted to sending an email or text while driving.

Not only does distracted driving have an impact on those driving, but it also affects pedestrians. The Governor’s Highway Safety Association states in 2018, 6,200 walkers were killed on U.S. roads, marking a 28-year high. “Pedestrian deaths, which typically occur at crosswalks and intersections, are also going up due to distracted drivers. It is a growing crisis with deadly consequences,” states Adams.

How distracted driving impacts insurance rates

Car insurance companies are cracking down on those caught texting and driving. If you receive a ticket for texting or are involved in a car accident where a distraction plays a factor, your car insurance will likely increase at your policy’s renewal.

The reason for this is car insurance providers assess risk when determining policy pricing. If your driving history shows you exhibit distracted driving tendencies, you are more likely to be involved in an accident due to your risky behavior.

How to prevent distracted driving

Adams recommends drivers “put their phones down to stay more focused on driving. This can help to reduce the number of distracted driving deaths.”

Tucking phones away is a great first step. Before putting your phone away, make sure to silence all notifications and put your phone into a purse or glove box. In this way, you can resist the urge to glance at it if a notification comes up but still have access if an emergency arises.

Another preventive tip is to limit all distractions. After starting your car, set your temperature controls to a comfortable setting. You can also use this time to load a playlist, podcast or turn to your favorite radio station. Doing this before driving prevents you from wanting to toggle with the dials while driving, which takes your attention away from the road.

As part of planning, you should eat and do your hair or makeup before leaving your home. This prevents you from trying to do two things at the same time, which impairs your ability to focus solely on driving.

You will also want to minimize other distractions like too many passengers and conversations. Additionally, you will want to avoid loud music. As exhilarating as it can be to blast your tunes, it also limits your ability to focus on your surroundings.

Meanwhile, if you are tired, it is important to pull off the road to a rest stop, hotel or parking lot. Step out of the car and get some fresh air. Walk around to get your muscles going. If you are still too tired when you step back into your car, consider ordering an Uber or Lyft or having a friend pick you up. Driving while tired reduces your reaction times which makes it dangerous to drive.

In all instances, try to plan ahead to eliminate your distractions when on the road. This includes taking frequent breaks on longer drives and planning music so you are not changing channels all the time.

Frequently asked questions

Is distracted driving illegal?

Using handheld phones for calls and texting may be illegal, depending on the laws in your state. Being under the influence, sleepy or distracted by conversation or music inside the car are also traffic offenses and can get you penalized if caught.

Can I get a ticket for distracted driving?

If being distracted causes you to deviate from safe driving patterns, you can be pulled over and fined. If the distracted driving was the result of being under the influence, you may be charged with a DUI.

Will distracted driving affect my insurance rates?

When distracted driving is serious enough to cause a traffic violation, your insurance rates will likely be affected. Traffic violations remain on your driving record for an average of five years, depending on your insurance company, after which your insurance costs may begin to lower.

Written by
Cynthia Widmayer
Insurance Contributor
Cynthia Widmayer is an insurance contributor for Bankrate and has over two years of experience as a personal finance writer. She covers home, car and life insurance products for Bankrate, The Simple Dollar and among others.
Edited by
Insurance Editor