Texting and driving statistics 2021

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America has a dangerous epidemic of distracted driving that can strongly increase the risk of harm to everyone on the roads. With the rise of the Digital Age, texting and driving has become particularly commonplace, and it comes at a terrible price. It’s especially concerning when about half of all teenagers believe they have a smartphone addiction, and about 72% say they feel a pressing need to return texts right away. It’s one leading reason why car crashes claim more teenagers’ lives each day than any other reason.

The United States Department of Transportation reports that it takes 5 seconds to read a text. Those five seconds could cost you your life.

Texting and driving statistics

  • The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reports that you are six times more likely to be in a crash from texting and driver than drinking and driving.
  • Using your cell phone behind the wheel can reduce your brain activity by up to 37%.
  • About 660,000 drivers are using their cell phones while operating a vehicle at any moment in the day, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • Texting while driving has the same effect on your reaction time as it would if you had consumed four beers in a single hour.
  • Teens who text while driving spend an average of 10% of their driving time outside of traffic lanes.
  • AAA reports that although 94% of teen drivers understand the dangers of texting and driving, 35% admitted to doing it anyway.
    • One-quarter of teens say they respond to at least one text every time they are behind the wheel.
    • Parents are guilty, too. About 20% of teens and 10% of parents admit to engaging in multi-text conversations while driving.

Texting and driving accidents

American drivers’ affinity for texting and driving has serious consequences, and the data indicates it’s only getting worse each year. Fatalities from distracted driving were on the rise in 2019, up nearly 10% from the year before, with more than 3,140 fatalities in a single year.

Of the nearly 37,000 deaths in 2018, more than 5% were attributed to phone use, and in 2017, an estimated 434 people were killed because of a driver’s phone use.

Table of contents

What is the definition of texting while driving?

The legal definition of texting while driving is when the driver uses a mobile phone to compose, send, or read text messages and other digital correspondence while operating a motor vehicle.

Texting while driving is a form of distracted driving. There are three types of distracted driving.

  • Visual distractions
    This kind of distraction requires that you take your eyes off the road, caused by visual stimulants that avert your eyes.
  • Manual distractions
    A manual distraction requires the use of your hands, causing you to give up control of the wheel.
  • Cognitive distractions
    These distractions occupy your mind, carrying your thoughts away from driving and onto other matters.

Texting driving is especially perilous because it requires all three.

What are the dangers of texting and driving?

The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) says that it takes about five seconds to read a text. During that time, you drive about the length of a football field at around 55mph, which is 360 feet — quite a long way to have your eyes off the road. The issue is not just the momentary lapse in attention, but also the additional time it takes for your eyes to reorient to the road and the other cars around you.

Teens and young drivers are especially susceptible to the dangers of texting and driving when they have fewer years of experience under their belt. This inexperience, coupled with a lack of advanced driving skills, can equate to more accidents, and sadly, more fatalities amongst this age group.

In addition to doubling your chances of an accident, texting while driving can triple your risk of other incidents on the road:

  • Driving over the curb
  • Departing from the roadway
  • Collisions with trees, poles, signs, and other items

Other drivers are not the only ones that you risk hurting on the road. The NHTSA reports that in 2018, 605 passengers, 400 pedestrians and 77 bicyclists were all killed by distracted driving.

Texting and driving statistics over time

Texting wasn’t always as popular as it is today. Text messaging was not introduced until the 1990s when phone messaging was first introduced. Of course, capabilities were limited and nothing like what we see today, but still, it was the beginning of a dangerous trend.

By the 2000s, texting messaging was becoming the new norm, with wireless providers beginning to package text messaging into their bundles. In just a few years, texting was everywhere and a favorite new way of communication for everyone.

There are several reasons why texting messaging has really taken off. It’s a faster method of communication that offers the privacy of a phone call but doesn’t demand nearly the same time and attention.

Because it is faster, it is also cheaper. Many cell phone users quickly found that their cell phone providers were far more generous with text message allotments than they were minutes. To stay within their plans, cell phone subscribers began relying upon text messaging as a primary and more affordable means of communication.

However, while texting is faster, it also requires the use of your hands and your eyes — serving as a very dangerous distraction when you are driving a car. Crashes began to happen, and the rise in incidents on the road caused federal and state governments to begin seriously considering the dangers of texting and driving.

Year Texting and driving deaths
2017 401
2016 453
2015 453
2014 387
2013 411

In 2008, as cell phone providers were adding text messaging plans en masse, state governments began fighting back with new legislation crafted to cease the growing epidemic of distracted driving. Alaska was one of the first states to act, adding text messaging into law as a punishable offense. A misdemeanor, texting and driving could mean up to one year in jail for offenders. It wasn’t long before many other states followed suit.

The evidence became hard to ignore when an increasing number of crashes were being attributed to texting and driving. According to the NHTSA, 2017 brought 401 fatal crashes that all involved texting and driving, accounting for 14% of all fatal distraction-related accidents.

2017 Driver Cell Phone Use

Number of Crashes Drivers Affected Total Fatalities
Cell Phone in Use 401 404 434

By 2019, 39% of high school students readily admitted to texting or emailing while behind the wheel. This creates concern for how these habits will develop in the future.

Risk factors

All age groups are guilty of texting and driving, but data from the NHTSA shows that there are some groups that are far more active than others.

Drivers between the ages of 20 and 29 far exceed the usage of older adults, with the 30-39 group ages 15-19 also showing greater cell phone use while driving. The risk of texting and driving begins to decrease after 39, showing that drivers ages 40 years and up are more responsible on the road and less likely to end up in a car crash due to texting and driving.

2017 Fatal Crashes by Age Group

Age Group Number % of Drivers Using Cell Phones
15-19 63 16%
20-29 151 37%
30-39 86 21%
40-49 48 12%
50-59 33 8%
60-69 19 5%
70+ 4 1%
Total 404 100%

The CDC offers some additional insight into how frequently teenagers use their phones behind the wheel. Its 2019 report studies how frequently teens use their phones to email behind the wheel.

Teen Behaviors

Emailed while driving
2013 41.4%
2015 41.5%
2017 39.2%
2019 39%

How common is texting and driving?

Many drivers have sent a text behind the wheel, and many continue to do so either on a regular basis or when they are in a pinch. But how common is text and driving, really?

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that one out of every three drivers knows someone or has a relative who was injured or killed in a car crash. What’s more, the study found that one-third of all drivers admit to regularly texting behind the wheel. It’s an unnecessary risk when it’s been proven that one out of every four accidents in the U.S. is the result of texting and driving.

The NHTSA says that about 36% of drivers with a smartphone use their phones at a red light or stop sign, increasing the likelihood of distracted driving even after you press on the gas. About 35% of drivers admit that they continue to use their phones even after they resume driving.

Not all cell phone use is attributed to simply driving, either. Social media always proves to be tempting fodder, and the flash of a breaking news headline can lift your eyes from the road before you even realize. Many drivers also use their phones for audio in their cars, relying upon apps like Pandora and Spotify for music and podcasts to entertain them on their travels. Even setting up or altering directions in a map application on your phone can be a source of diversion.

The consequences of texting and driving

Texting while driving is considered a moving traffic violation. Depending on where you live, texting while driving may also be considered a Class B or Class C criminal misdemeanor. Other states and jurisdictions have no laws at all.

Many states have looked to financial penalties as a reasonable consequence for drinking and driving. Penalties range from $20 to $500, depending on the state, but in some states like Alaska and Iowa, fines can reach as high as $1,000 and mean a misdemeanor offense.

Additional possible penalties for texting and driving can include:

  • Points on your driving record
  • Suspension of your driver’s license
  • Revocation of driving privileges
  • Mandatory driver safety courses
  • Vehicle impoundment

When bodily injury is involved, offenders of texting and driving may also face jail or prison time. Penalties vary, but commercial drivers and school bus drivers are commonly held to stricter penalties due to the public nature of their positions. Consequences heighten in severity when you have repeated offenses.

Texting and driving laws state by state

Laws vary by state, so it’s crucial to review the specific texting and driving laws that affect your area. This is a comprehensive, state-by-state listing of current U.S. texting and driving laws.

State Handheld Ban Type of Law Texting Messaging Ban Type of Law
Alabama X Primary
Alaska X Primary
Arizona X Primary X Primary
Arkansas X Primary: 18-20 years Secondary: school and work zones X Primary
California X Primary X Primary
Colorado X Primary
Connecticut X Primary X Primary
Delaware X Primary X Primary
District of Columbia X Primary X Primary
Florida X Primary
Georgia X Primary X Primary
Guam X Primary X Primary
Hawaii X Primary X Primary
Idaho X Primary
Illinois X Primary X Primary
Indiana X Primary
Iowa X Primary
Kansas X
Kentucky X Primary
Louisiana X Primary: drivers in school zones, learner or intermediate license X Primary
Maine X Primary X Primary
Maryland X Primary X Primary
Massachusetts X Primary X Primary
Michigan X Primary
Minnesota X Primary X Primary
Mississippi X Primary
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska X
Nevada X Primary X Primary
New Hampshire X Primary X Primary
New Jersey X Primary X Primary
New Mexico X Primary
New York X Primary X Primary
North Carolina X Primary
North Dakota X Primary
Ohio X Secondary
Oklahoma X Primary: Learner or intermediate license X Primary
Oregon X Primary X Primary
Pennsylvania X Primary
Puerto Rico X Primary X Primary
Rhode Island X Primary X Primary
South Carolina X Primary
South Dakota X Secondary
Tennessee X Primary X Primary
Texas X Primary: school crossing zones and on public school property only X Primary
Utah X Primary
Vermont X Primary X Primary
Virgin Islands X Primary X Primary
Virginia X Primary X Primary
Washington X Primary X Primary
West Virginia X Primary X Primary
Wisconsin X Primary
Wyoming X Primary

How texting and driving impacts car insurance rates

Texting and driving can have long-lasting impacts, too. In addition to the legal and financial penalties, there is also your car insurance company that you must contend with after the dust has settled.

Car insurance premiums are all based on risk, calculated for each individual based on a specific set of rate factors that determine how much you pay for your coverage each year. This includes everything from where you live and the kind of car you drive to your credit score, driving history, and claims record.

Be sure to always shop and compare car insurance quotes each year to find the best car insurance provider for you. Car insurance can get particularly pricey when you have a texting and driving offense on your driving record, so be sure to also consider the cheapest car insurance companies in your state to find a policy that’s affordable for you.

Massachusetts is one example of how texting and driving impacts rates. Car insurance premiums have been steadily on the rise since 2016, when car insurance rates increased an average of 6% to 9% within a single year. Premiums increased again in 2017 when many of the car insurance companies in Massachusetts received state approval to increase rates another 3% to 6% in light of growing texting and driving trends.

Writes local affiliate NBC Boston, “In the past three years, insurance companies have determined they have sufficient data about the riskiness of drivers who receive distracted driving violations on their driving records to raise rates accordingly and that they have substantial proof to convince regulators of the validity of their rate changes.”

It was a measure that soon came to be popular with car insurance providers in other states, as well.

How to prevent texting and driving

Prevention of texting and driving starts at home. Governments and organizations can do their best to deter the practice with harsh penalties and required driver education, but the truth is that it is a personal habit that you have to commit to breaking yourself.

It’s easier said than done, but these are some tips to help you stop texting and driving when you are behind the wheel.

  • Be clear about usage.
    Texting and driving doesn’t just mean sending an errant text while you’re cruising down the road. Instead, it’s become a broad term used to describe a number of different behaviors involving your cell phone. Texting and driving can also refer to emailing, calling or using social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or TikTok.
  • Develop a pre-driving routine.
    Before you put your car in gear, ensure that you are safely secured in your vehicle before taking a few minutes for a pre-drive check. Be sure to check your messages and respond to anything urgent before you drive. If you expect an immediate response, let the recipient know that you will be driving but will check their message just as soon as your drive is complete.
  • Keep your phone out of reach.
    You can’t use your phone if you can’t reach it, so put it in the glove box, the backseat or even the trunk, so you are not tempted to reach for it while you’re driving.
  • Prepare your directions.
    Whether you use your phone’s navigation or your car’s GPS, be sure to prepare your directions before you depart. It can be an enormous and very dangerous distraction to fumble with directions when you are simultaneously trying to safely navigate traffic around you, easily leading to an accident. Instead, take a minute to bring up your directions before you leave so you can have a smooth journey ahead.
  • Use your phone’s features.
    Today many phone manufacturers help deter texting and driving and by offering a “Do Not Disturb” function. Popular on phones like Apple, you can set your phone to a quiet mode that silences incoming notifications while the feature is enabled. You will still receive messages, but they are held for later review so you aren’t constantly distracted by the flashing of repeated text and email notifications. You can sometimes enable these settings to send an automated text response to calls or incoming messages that you are driving and will answer later.
  • Invest in a SMARTwheel.
    This steering wheel cover uses revolutionary technology to detect common behaviors associated with distracted driving and send alerts to drivers in real-time.
  • Set an example.
    Don’t text behind the wheel when others are in your vehicle and refuse to respond to messages when you know a loved one is driving. For parents, this is essential with teen drivers present.
  • Get involved and educate.
    Parents have the combined role of both educator and enforcer at home, so it’s critical that parents take an active role in their family’s safety. Be sure to properly educate your children on the dangers of texting behind the wheel. It’s even good to give your friends or more experienced drivers a refresher on the potential consequences they face. Bring it up in conversation to spread awareness of the risks associated with this activity.

Apps to prevent texting and driving

Some apps are designed specifically to help drivers on the road and potentially alleviate texting and driving habits.

AT&T DriveMode

Availability: Android, iOS

To encourage responsible cell phone use, AT&T offers its DriveMode app for both Android and iOS. This app can detect when you’re in motion and will automatically send a reply to let the sender know that you are currently driving and will respond at a later time. Bilingual capabilities for both English and Spanish are available, and parents especially love the additional security features, which gives you insight into your child’s usage and whether the app is even enabled.

Down for the Count

Availability: iOS

Turn safe driving into a game with this fun app. Set a safe driving goal, and then get your family and friends involved by asking them to sponsor you. The app will track your driving habits and report back on what you are doing well and areas where you can improve. Once you reach your goal, you can cash in your winnings. Prizes are delivered via a gift card of your choosing, with available options from your favorite restaurant, retail, and financial providers.

LifeSaver

Availability: Android, iOS

Sometimes, we don’t even think to check our phones until the flash of a new notification piques our curiosity and we fall victim to temptation. LifeSaver quietly works in the background of your phone, sensing when you are in movement and automatically silencing all incoming notifications. Even if you try to use your phone while you are in motion, all you will receive in response is a locked screen until you are finished driving. In the meantime, you can still receive calls and use your phone as a passenger.

Written by
Lena Borrelli
Insurance Contributor
Lena Muhtadi Borrelli has several years of experience in writing for insurance domains such as allconnect, Healthline and Reviews.com. She previously worked for Morgan Stanley.