Distracted driving is a common issue on the road, and it puts those on the road at serious risk. The accidents caused by distracted driving in 2020 alone claimed 3,142 lives, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). And, while distracted driving includes any activity that takes your eyes off the road while you’re behind the wheel, texting is perhaps the most alarming of them all. While it’s a common issue, the reality is that when you read or send a text, your eyes come off the road for an average of five seconds, according to the NHTSA. At a speed of 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of a football field without looking.

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But texting and driving is not just dangerous; it may also be against the law. Most states have now banned texting while driving, and drivers in those states that have done this can get a ticket for this offense. States that have not banned texting completely may still have restrictions on texting while driving, but it’s a dangerous game no matter what the laws are in your state. In addition to traffic tickets, those who cause a traffic-related death due to texting while driving may end up spending time in prison. So, it’s important to avoid the temptation to pick up your phone while behind the wheel. Even if your trip is short, it’s important to give your full attention to the road.

Texting while driving statistics

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association estimated that there were 2,841 deaths due to distracted driving in 2018. This represents almost 8% of all fatal car crashes that year.

Given that studies show it takes about five seconds to read a text message, someone could drive the length of a football field while reading a text and driving at 55mph. Because so many things can happen in less than five seconds, such as a child running into the street or a car in front slamming on their brakes, those seconds are vital. That statistic makes it unsurprising that a 2018 study found that texting while driving doubled the chances of being involved in an accident.

The group with the largest number of deaths caused by distracted driving are teenagers, but not just distracted drivers get injured or killed because of texting and driving. Non-occupants like pedestrians and cyclists are also at risk.

How texting and driving affects insurance rates

There are many factors that are used by your insurance company to determine how much your car insurance will cost. Some of these factors may include your credit score, age, driving history, neighborhood, vehicle and commute length.

But more insurance companies are starting to track their policyholders’ cell phone usage using satellite technology. Allstate uses a service called Arity to track their drivers’ use of cell phones while driving. After Arity tracked about 160 million trips, the company concluded that those who used cell phones while driving were at higher risk for accidents and tickets.

Other drivers’ behavior and cell phone habits can cause your insurance rates to rise because they can increase the risk of you getting into an accident with one of them. How much your rates can rise will again depend upon factors such as what state you live in and your insurance company.

Are laws making texting problems worse?

There is some concern that anti-texting laws may actually be contributing to the problem. Websites such as Drive-Safely.Net advocate the repeal of current texting and driving laws because they claim that they are only adding fuel to the fire. The website states that drivers who want to text now must hold their phones down below the steering wheel or in their laps, thus forcing them to take their eyes off the road.

The website goes on to argue that the current laws only make things worse because technology companies are reluctant to produce new products that allow for voice-to-text so that drivers can keep their eyes on the road. They hesitate because the current laws could make them liable for any accidents that happen as a result of their technology.

But other research is suggesting that the bans on cell phones at the state level are having a good effect. The American Journal of Public Health announced that research showed that the number of car accidents requiring hospitalization have dropped by about 7% in states that have instituted strict anti-texting laws between 2003 and 2010.

Frequently asked questions

    • The risk of a crash increases significantly each time a driver glances away from the road to read or type a text. Even if the driver is only glancing away for a few seconds, that’s a long enough time to miss a red light or another vehicle’s brake lights. Even if the driver glances away for only a few seconds, the brain has to shift gears again to shift back to the road, which increases the cognitive load. It also takes a certain amount of motor skill and dexterity to type on a small device, which means that drivers may be risking a certain degree of impairment.
    • Using your cell phone while driving may seem like a relatively harmless habit, but doing so can increase your risk of getting in a car accident. In these cases, you may be focusing your attention on the call or on your phone rather than what’s happening in front of you. This lack of attention to the road can lead you to a car accident. Reaction time matters greatly when you’re behind the wheel, and even a limited distraction can spell the difference between a safe trip on the road and utter disaster for both you and everything around you.
    • Texting and driving is against the law in nearly every state in the country and Washington, D.C. The states that don’t outlaw it generally have restrictions against it, and some cities may also have their own rules related to texting and driving. If a law enforcement officer catches you texting, you could be issued a ticket or charged with a fine, although the penalties for texting and driving vary depending on the state. Some states have harsher penalties than others, but it’s smart to avoid texting and driving, no matter the legalities of doing so.