How Common Are Distracted Driving Accidents?

Distracted drivers seem to be more common now than ever before. Cell phones, navigation devices, and entertainment systems bombard drivers with sounds and images that can pull the attention of even the most focused driver.

Recently, governments have passed laws to address this problem. Texting while driving is now illegal in 48 states (as well as in the District of Columbia).

But is the perception about distracted driving accurate? Here are some statistics to answer the question: How common are distracted driving accidents?

Distracted Driving Accidents

Many drivers forget that operating a vehicle requires focus. At 55 miles per hour, a car will travel 160 feet during a distraction that lasts for just two seconds.

Under the definition used by the government, distractions come in three types:

Visual Distraction

A visual distraction takes your eyes off the road. Looking at your phone would constitute a visual distraction.

Manual Distraction

Manual distractions take your hands off the wheel. Manual distractions include typing a text message or playing with the radio dial.

Cognitive Distraction

Cognitive distractions take your mind off driving. These can come in any form, including talking on the phone or dealing with a passenger.

How Common Are Distracted Driving Accidents?

Distracted driving crashes happen frequently. Nearly 940,000 crashes on American roads in 2018 involved at least one distracted driver. This means that 2018 brought in  about 2,575 distracted driving crashes every day.

From these crashes, 2,600 resulted in at least one fatality and 276,000 caused at least one injury. The remaining 659,000 damaged property without injuring or killing anyone.

But distracted driving accidents only make up a small percentage of the total car accidents that happen every year. In 2018, drivers had 6.7 million car accidents. This means that distracted driving caused only about 14% of the accidents that year.

The good news is that these numbers have fallen from their highs. In 2014, over 16% of car accidents resulted from distracted driving. And 2015 saw over 3,200 distracted driving deaths.

The drop in these statistics likely came about through improved technologies and greater government regulation.

Responses to Distracted Driving

Technology companies, auto manufacturers, and governments have responded to the risks posed by distracted driving. Cell phone manufacturers have developed talk-to-text software that allows drivers to dictate responses to text messages. Likewise, auto manufacturers have developed hands-free cell systems that use the car’s sound system.

But the most important responses have come from state lawmakers. 48 states and Washington, D.C. all have bans on texting while driving. Missouri, one of the remaining states, bans texting while driving for drivers under the age of 21. Only Montana allows all drivers to text.

Many states have gone even further. California and 23 other states have banned handheld cell phone use. These states are joined by 6 other states that have banned handheld cell phone use by young drivers or drivers going through school or construction zones.

Young drivers are the most likely to be involved in distracted driving accidents. As a result, many states have targeted cell phone use by drivers under a certain age.

35 states, including California, have laws that prohibit all cell phone use by young drivers, although the age and experience requirements vary. One additional state, Michigan, prohibits all handheld cell phone use by young drivers but allows them to use hands-free systems.

With these laws and continued technological developments, the hope is that accidents caused by distracted driving will become rarer and rarer.

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