How Bad is Distracted Driving, Really?

Sun, 2/25/2018 - 2:12 am by Kirsten Rincon

Engaging in distracting activities while driving is a very dangerous practice. It jeopardizes the safety of drivers, passengers, and other road users. Distracted driving is a leading cause of car crashes in the United States. Texting, talking on a cell phone, and eating and drinking are the most common driver distraction.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 660,000 Americans are using cell phones at any given moment. According to the National Safety Council, every year, 1,600,000 accidents are caused by texting while driving – this accounts for approximately 25% of all car crashes in the U.S.

Text Messaging is the Riskiest Distraction

Since sending, composing, or reading text messages causes visual, manual and cognitive distractions, it is considered to be one of the riskiest driving behaviors. Texting while driving increases the risk of accident by 23 times. On average, sending or reading a text message while driving takes a driver’s attention off the road for approximately 5 seconds. This means at 55 mph, you will cover the entire length of a football field without looking at the road. Teenagers are especially susceptible to texting while driving, and as many as 34% of teenage drivers admit to have texted while driving at least once.

Texting and driving

Talking on a cell phone is another risky behavior. It reduces a driver’s reaction time drastically: Various studies show that a 20-year-old’s reaction time while talking on a cell phone is comparable to that of a 70-year-old. As a result, drivers who talk on a cell phone are 4 times more likely to get involved in a crash.

Distracted Driving Accident Statistics

Driver distractions cause thousands of crashes each year, with many of them resulting in injury or death. According to the NHTSA, approximately 387,000 people were injured in distracted driving accidents in 2011, but in 2012, the number of injured people in accidents involving a distracted driver jumped to 421,000. Sadly, 3,360 people were killed in crashes caused by a distracted driver in 2011, compared to 3,328 in 2012.

Texting while driving has become the number one cause of death among teenagers in the United States, surpassing drunk driving. According to a study conducted by the Cohen Children’s Medical Center, distracted driving crashes cause 9% more teen deaths than alcohol-related accidents. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that 11 teens are killed each day in distraction-related accidents.

In addition to texting, talking to passengers is another activity that affects teen drivers’ attention. The more passengers that are in the car, the higher the accident risk for teenage drivers. 

However, parents are largely responsible for their teen’s risky behavior. 15% of youth drivers have witnessed their parents send or read text messages while behind the wheel.

Athough surveys show that the majority of drivers are aware of the dangers of distracted driving, it continues to be an epidemic on roads across the United States. In 2012, the NHTSA conducted a National Survey on Distracted Driving Attitudes and Behaviors; results found that 94% of all drivers are in favor of outlawing texting while driving and 74% of them support bans on hand-held cell phone use.

How Can Distracted Driving Be Reduced?

Like all other car accidents, crashes involving distracted drivers are completely avoidable. In addition to enacting tougher distracted driving laws, authorities should launch campaigns to educate drivers about the risks involved in distracted driving, and enforce the existing laws much more vigorously.

To learn more, visit’s distracted driving section.