Drunk Driving vs. Distracted Driving: Which is More Dangerous?

Plus: A list of each state's fines and penalties

drunk driving vs distracted driving accidents

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Drunk driving has long been a major cause of accidents on the road. Having a few drinks impairs our cognitive abilities, and getting behind the wheel in such a state could end in disaster.

As smartphones become more popular, however, another threat has reared its head: distracted driving. How often have you seen someone talking or texting on their cell phone while driving? Or maybe you’ve spotted someone eating fries or holding lipstick in one hand. Perhaps they have a backseat full of kids yelling and fighting, as well. There are plenty of things that can distract our eyes and minds from the road, and any one of them can do damage.

So when it comes to drunk driving vs. distracted driving, which is the more dangerous? Let’s take a look at some of the statistics and laws for both.

Effects on the Driver

Drunk Driving

Even if you’re not at the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of .08%, drinking any amount and then driving has a negative effect on your ability behind the wheel. At .02% BAC, drivers experience a decline in visual functions, such as rapid tracking of a moving target, as well as worsened ability to perform two tasks at the same time. Higher BAC levels result in a further decline of skills, including an inability to recognize turn signals, maintain lane position, and a delay in braking response.

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving has three components: visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel), and cognitive (taking your mind off of driving). This includes activities like eating, watching a movie, or even using an in-vehicle navigation system.

The most common form of distracted driving – texting while driving – combines all three components at once, much like driving while intoxicated does. Particularly troubling texts and phone calls may also cause a driver to become angrier or more depressed, causing additional distraction. Even for seemingly harmless messages, consider this: the average text takes about five seconds to send. Traveling at 55 mph, that’s like going the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.

Statistics: Drunk Driving vs Distracted Driving 


Drunk Driving

  • 10,265 deaths in 2015
  • 290,000 injuries in 2015

Distracted Driving

  • 3,477 deaths in 2015
  • 391,000 injuries in 2015


Drunk Driving

Distracted Driving

  • Drivers aged 16 to 24 are more likely to be distracted while driving.
  • Women are more likely to text and drive than men.

Timing & Frequency

Drunk Driving

  • Drunk driving accidents most commonly occur between midnight and 3 a.m.
  • Drunk driving crashes are more common during the weekend – between 6 p.m. on Friday and ending at 6 a.m. on Sunday.
  • In 2015, 28% of fatal nighttime crashes were due to drunk driving, compared to 15% during the week.
  • 42% of nighttime fatal accidents involved only one vehicle.
  • The most common BAC for fatal accidents is 0.14%, nearly twice the legal limit.
  • In a few rare occasions, a drunk driver has had a BAC of 0.45% in a fatal accident – almost 6 times the legal limit.

Distracted Driving

  • More than a quarter of distracted driving crashes from 2007 to 2015 occurred between 3 p.m. and 5:59 p.m. The next most common times are between 6 a.m. to 8:59 a.m. (18.8%) and 12 p.m. to 2:59 p.m. (17.1%).
  • Distracted driving crashes are most common on Friday (17.4%) and Thursday (15.9%).
  • 45.5% of distracted driving crashes during that timeframe occurred on dry roads, while 40.3% were during snowy or icy conditions.
  • At any given time, 660,000 people are using an electronic device while driving
  • 59% of crashes contained some type of distracting behavior in the 6 seconds leading up to the crash.

Driver texting at the wheel

So, What Are the Consequences?

Drunk Driving

The legal BAC limit for all 50 states is .08%. For commercial drivers, that limit is .04%. However, the penalties for DUIs and DWIs vary by state, previous offenses, and how far over the legal limit the driver is.

State-by-State Penalties for Drunk Driving 

StateJail TimeViolation Fines & FeesCar Insurance Rate IncreaseLicense SuspensionIgnition Interlock Device Required?
AlabamaNone$600 to $2,100$71690 DaysNo
AlaskaMin. 72 hours$1,500$568Min. 90 daysYes
ArizonaMin. 24 hours$250 base fine$1,47790 to 360 daysYes
Arkansas24 hours to 1 year$150 to $1,000$8506 monthsYes
California4 days to 6 months$1,400 to $2,600$2,86930 days to 10 monthsYes, in some counties
ColoradoUp to 1 year (DUI), or up to 180 days (DWAI)Up to $1,000 (DUI), or up to $500 (DWAI)$6949 months (DUI), none for DWAINo
Connecticut2 days up to 6 months$500 to $1,000$1,6681 yearNo
Washington DCMax. 6 months$500 to $1,1500$1,0161 to 2 yearsNo
DelawareMax 90 days$300 to $1,100$2,0196 monthsNo
Florida6 to 9 months$500 to $2,000$1,023180 days to 1 yearYes
Georgia24 hours to 1 year$300 to $1,000$812Up to 1 yearNo
HawaiiNone$150 to $1,000$2,38890 daysNo
IdahoUp to 6 monthsUp to $1,000$59490 to 180 daysNo
IllinoisUp to 1 yearUp to $2,500$1,535Min. 1 yearYes
Indiana60 days to 1 year$500 to $5,000$380Up to 2 yearsNo
Iowa48 hours up to 1 year$625 to $1,200$599180 daysYes, if BAC above .10
Kansas48 hour min.$750 to $1,000$51230 daysYes
KentuckyNone$600 to $2,100$1,32190 daysNo
Louisiana2 days to 6 months$1,000$69490 daysPossible
Maine30 days$500$56390 daysNo
MarylandUp to 1 year (DUI); up to 2 months (DWI)Up to $1,000 (DUI); up to $500 (DWI)$309Min 6 months (DUI & DWI)No
MassachusettsUp to 30 months$500 to $5,000$9611 yearNo
MichiganUp to 93 daysFrom $100 to $500$2,172Up to 6 monthsPossible
MinnesotaUp to 90 days$1,000$892Up to 90 daysYes
MississippiUp to 48 hours$250 to $1,000$78790 daysNo
MissouriUp to 6 monthsUp to $500$36130 daysPossible
Montana2 days to 6 months$300 to $1,000$5356 monthsPossible
Nevada7 to 60 daysUp to $500$655Up to 60 daysNo
Nevada2 days to 6 months$400 to $1,000$77590 daysPossible
New HampshireNone$500 to $1,200$7576 monthsNo
New JerseyUp to 30 days$250 to $500$1,1563 months to 1 yearPossible
New MexicoUp to 90 daysUp to $500$771Up to 1 yearYes
New YorkNone$500 to $1,000$1,1506 monthsYes
North Carolina24 hours (for level 5 offender) (however, if 3 aggravated factors are present — Level 1A — minimum of 12 months)$200 (for level 5 offender)$2,77060 days to 1 yearNo
North DakotaNone$500 to $750$67791 to 180 daysNo
Ohio3 days to 6 months$250 to $1,000$5116 months to 3 yearsNo
Oklahoma5 days to 1 yearUp to $1,000$1,02230 daysNo
Oregon2 days or 80 hours community services$1,000 to $6,250$1,0101 yearYes
PennsylvaniaNone$300$894NoYes, if refusal to take chemical test
Rhode IslandUp to 1 year$100 to $500$1,3842 to 18 monthsNo
South Carolina48 hours to 90 days$400 to $1,000$7936 monthsNo
South DakotaUp to 1 year$1,000$1,00930 days to 1 yearNo
Tennessee48 hours up to 11 months$350 to $1,500$7431 yearYes
Texas3 to 180 daysUp to $2,000$97190 to 365 daysNo
Utah48 hours min.$700 min.$494120 daysNo
VermontUp to 2 yearsUp to $750$89290 daysNo
VirginiaMin. 5 daysMin. $250$7221 yearYes, if BAC .15 or above
Washington24 hours to 1 year$865.50 to $5,000$65890 days to 1 yearYes
West VirginiaUp to 6 months$100 to $1,000$1,02215 to 45 daysPossible
WisconsinNone$150 to $300$4206 to 9 monthsNo
WyomingUp to 6 monthsUp to $750$70990 daysYes, if BAC .15 or above

Sources: The Zebra State of Auto Insurance Report and drivinglaws.org

The penalties are usually pretty harsh, though. In California, for a first-time offense, a person may receive a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail. If the DUI offense ended in an injury, the person may be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. Vermont drunk drivers might receive up to two years in jail for a first time offense. In Oregon, a DUI can result in up to $6,250 in fines. Pennsylvania has the most lax laws for first-time offenders: up to $300 in fines, but no jail time and no suspended license.

Distracted Driving

While 46 states have complete bans on texting and driving, it’s often a minor offense in a court of law. Again using California as an example, first-time offenders pay a $20 fine. Each subsequent offense is punishable by a $50 fine.

Ironically, the state with the harshest drunk driving rules just may be the one with the fewest drivers. Texting or using an electronic device in Alaska can lead to a class A misdemeanor, which results a fine of up to $10,000 and up to one year in a county jail. That’s if the driver doesn’t injure somebody else. If a distracted driving crash leads to an injury or death of another person, the driver may be convicted of anywhere between a class C and class A felony – five to 20 years in prison and a fine of anywhere between $50,000 and $250,000.

Like drunk driving, the consequences of distracted driving can be huge. To learn more about distracted driving behaviors, click here.

  • Tameka

    Both are dangerous but drunk driving I would say is a tad bit more dangerous. At least the laws need to be stricter for drunk driving.