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
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 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
- 10,265 deaths in 2015
- 290,000 injuries in 2015
- 3,477 deaths in 2015
- 391,000 injuries in 2015
- 20.7% of accidents involve 26- to 29-year-old drivers.
- Men are 4 times as likely as women to be involved in a fatal accident while intoxicated.
- 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 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.
- 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.
So, What Are the Consequences?
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
|State||Jail Time||Violation Fines & Fees||Car Insurance Rate Increase||License Suspension||Ignition Interlock Device Required?|
|Alabama||None||$600 to $2,100||$716||90 Days||No|
|Alaska||Min. 72 hours||$1,500||$568||Min. 90 days||Yes|
|Arizona||Min. 24 hours||$250 base fine||$1,477||90 to 360 days||Yes|
|Arkansas||24 hours to 1 year||$150 to $1,000||$850||6 months||Yes|
|California||4 days to 6 months||$1,400 to $2,600||$2,869||30 days to 10 months||Yes, in some counties|
|Colorado||Up to 1 year (DUI), or up to 180 days (DWAI)||Up to $1,000 (DUI), or up to $500 (DWAI)||$694||9 months (DUI), none for DWAI||No|
|Connecticut||2 days up to 6 months||$500 to $1,000||$1,668||1 year||No|
|Washington DC||Max. 6 months||$500 to $1,1500||$1,016||1 to 2 years||No|
|Delaware||Max 90 days||$300 to $1,100||$2,019||6 months||No|
|Florida||6 to 9 months||$500 to $2,000||$1,023||180 days to 1 year||Yes|
|Georgia||24 hours to 1 year||$300 to $1,000||$812||Up to 1 year||No|
|Hawaii||None||$150 to $1,000||$2,388||90 days||No|
|Idaho||Up to 6 months||Up to $1,000||$594||90 to 180 days||No|
|Illinois||Up to 1 year||Up to $2,500||$1,535||Min. 1 year||Yes|
|Indiana||60 days to 1 year||$500 to $5,000||$380||Up to 2 years||No|
|Iowa||48 hours up to 1 year||$625 to $1,200||$599||180 days||Yes, if BAC above .10|
|Kansas||48 hour min.||$750 to $1,000||$512||30 days||Yes|
|Kentucky||None||$600 to $2,100||$1,321||90 days||No|
|Louisiana||2 days to 6 months||$1,000||$694||90 days||Possible|
|Maine||30 days||$500||$563||90 days||No|
|Maryland||Up to 1 year (DUI); up to 2 months (DWI)||Up to $1,000 (DUI); up to $500 (DWI)||$309||Min 6 months (DUI & DWI)||No|
|Massachusetts||Up to 30 months||$500 to $5,000||$961||1 year||No|
|Michigan||Up to 93 days||From $100 to $500||$2,172||Up to 6 months||Possible|
|Minnesota||Up to 90 days||$1,000||$892||Up to 90 days||Yes|
|Mississippi||Up to 48 hours||$250 to $1,000||$787||90 days||No|
|Missouri||Up to 6 months||Up to $500||$361||30 days||Possible|
|Montana||2 days to 6 months||$300 to $1,000||$535||6 months||Possible|
|Nevada||7 to 60 days||Up to $500||$655||Up to 60 days||No|
|Nevada||2 days to 6 months||$400 to $1,000||$775||90 days||Possible|
|New Hampshire||None||$500 to $1,200||$757||6 months||No|
|New Jersey||Up to 30 days||$250 to $500||$1,156||3 months to 1 year||Possible|
|New Mexico||Up to 90 days||Up to $500||$771||Up to 1 year||Yes|
|New York||None||$500 to $1,000||$1,150||6 months||Yes|
|North Carolina||24 hours (for level 5 offender) (however, if 3 aggravated factors are present — Level 1A — minimum of 12 months)||$200 (for level 5 offender)||$2,770||60 days to 1 year||No|
|North Dakota||None||$500 to $750||$677||91 to 180 days||No|
|Ohio||3 days to 6 months||$250 to $1,000||$511||6 months to 3 years||No|
|Oklahoma||5 days to 1 year||Up to $1,000||$1,022||30 days||No|
|Oregon||2 days or 80 hours community services||$1,000 to $6,250||$1,010||1 year||Yes|
|Pennsylvania||None||$300||$894||No||Yes, if refusal to take chemical test|
|Rhode Island||Up to 1 year||$100 to $500||$1,384||2 to 18 months||No|
|South Carolina||48 hours to 90 days||$400 to $1,000||$793||6 months||No|
|South Dakota||Up to 1 year||$1,000||$1,009||30 days to 1 year||No|
|Tennessee||48 hours up to 11 months||$350 to $1,500||$743||1 year||Yes|
|Texas||3 to 180 days||Up to $2,000||$971||90 to 365 days||No|
|Utah||48 hours min.||$700 min.||$494||120 days||No|
|Vermont||Up to 2 years||Up to $750||$892||90 days||No|
|Virginia||Min. 5 days||Min. $250||$722||1 year||Yes, if BAC .15 or above|
|Washington||24 hours to 1 year||$865.50 to $5,000||$658||90 days to 1 year||Yes|
|West Virginia||Up to 6 months||$100 to $1,000||$1,022||15 to 45 days||Possible|
|Wisconsin||None||$150 to $300||$420||6 to 9 months||No|
|Wyoming||Up to 6 months||Up to $750||$709||90 days||Yes, if BAC .15 or above|
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.
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.