Almost half of drivers text and drive – despite 70% of them thinking it’s as dangerous as driving drunk

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

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Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

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Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

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How dangerous is distracted driving?

Distracted driving is an ongoing issue, but it’s hard to measure exactly how pervasive the problem is. Other than anecdotally noticing far too many people consulting their phones as they nearly weave into your lane, it can be hard to measure the impact. Here’s what we know for sure:

  • Distracted driving was directly responsible for the deaths of 3,308 people in 2022
  • That number might actually be higher as studies have found that distraction persists for a period even after the distracting activity has stopped.[1]
  • One study reports that drivers engage in distracting activities as much as 50% of the time while driving…which is 2x more likely to lead to a crash compared to model driving (where drivers are alert, attentive and sober).[2] 

This isn’t news to most of us. We know distractions are bad when behind the wheel, but so many of us do them anyway. We recently conducted a survey, to measure what activities people are doing behind the wheel in addition to driving.

Key findings

  • 47% of people admit to sending or reading a text while driving – that’s a nearly 30% increase from when we did the same survey 3 years ago.
  • Millennials and Gen Z are the most likely to send and receive text messages while driving (55%) while Boomers are the least likely (33%)
  • Despite this, the vast majority of people (71%) believe that texting and driving is just as dangerous as drinking and driving.

What are drivers doing behind the wheel?

Ideally, model driving means your only focus when behind the wheel is on your vehicle, the road and the vehicles around you. But of course, we know that’s not the case. So just what are people doing behind the wheel?

 distracted_driving_

This chart shows the answer to that question for the general population. However, there are some interesting generational differences to note. 

  • Millennials are more than twice as likely to apply makeup in the car than the general population. About 20% of Millennials admitted to doing this. 
  • Gen Z and Millennials are significantly more likely to send or read a text message while driving. 55% of people in both generations reported this behavior compared to 43% of Gen X and 33% of Boomers.
  • Boomers are the generation most likely to report no distracting behavior while driving. 
  • 74% of Gen Z say they adjust a GPS device while driving, compared to 59% of the general population.

Most people know it’s against the law

In the survey, we also asked how aware people are of the laws around cell phones and driving in their area.

Interestingly, most people are aware of the laws in their state. In fact, only 16% of people said they weren’t familiar with the laws around cell phone use in vehicles. The remaining 84% reported being somewhat familiar to very knowledgeable about cell phone laws in their state.

 How familiar are you with driving and cell phone laws in your state_

If you are one of the 16%, here are a few facts you should know:

  • 49 states D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers.
  • 27 states prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones at all while driving. 
  • Outside of the fully hands-free states, many states prohibit hand-held cellphone or all cellphone use by all or certain drivers in certain areas.

Here’s a chart to familiarize yourself with the laws around cell phone use while driving in your state:

Cell phone laws by state
State Hand-held ban All cellphone ban Texting ban Enforcement
Alabama All drivers Drivers age 16 and 17 who have held an intermediate license for less than 6 months. All drivers Primary
Alaska No No All drivers Primary
Arizona All drivers School bus drivers; learner's permits and provisional license holders for six months All drivers Primary (school bus drivers); secondary (young drivers)
Arkansas Drivers ages 18-20; schools zones; highway work zones School bus drivers; drivers younger than 18 All drivers Primary (school bus drivers); secondary (young drivers, drivers in school/work zones)
California All drivers School/transit bus drivers; drivers younger than 18 All drivers primary (hand held/texting), secondary (young drivers)
Colorado No Drivers younger than 18 All drivers Primary
Connecticut All drivers School bus drivers; learner's permits; driver's younger than 18 All drivers Primary
Delaware All drivers School bus drivers; learner's permit and intermediate license All drivers Primary
Florida No No All drivers Primary
Georgia All drivers School bus drivers; drivers younger than 18 All drivers Primary
Hawaii All drivers Drivers younger than 18 All drivers Primary
Idaho All drivers No All drivers Primary
Illinois All drivers School bus drivers; learner's permit holders younger than 19; drivers younger than 19 All drivers Primary
Indiana All drivers Drivers under the age of 21 All drivers Primary
Iowa No Learner's permit hand intermediate license holders All drivers Primary; for all offenses
Kansas No Learner's permit hand intermediate license holders All drivers Primary
Kentucky No School bus drivers; drivers younger than 18 All drivers Primary
Louisiana No School bus drivers; learner's permit hand intermediate license holders; drivers younger than 18 All drivers Primary
Maine All drivers Learner's permit hand intermediate license holders All drivers Primary
Maryland All drivers Learner's permit hand intermediate license holders under 18; school bus drivers All drivers Primary
Massachusetts All drivers School/passenger bus drivers; drivers younger than 18 All drivers Primary
Michigan All drivers Level 1 or 2 license holders All drivers Primary
Minnesota All drivers School bus drivers; learner's permit/provisional license holders for 12 months All drivers Primary
Mississippi No School bus drivers All drivers Primary
Missouri All drivers No Drivers 21 or younger Primary
Montana No No No Not applicable
Nebraska No Learner's permit/ intermediate license holders younger than 18 All drivers Secondary
Nevada All drivers No All drivers Primary
New Hampshire All drivers Drivers younger than 18 All drivers Primary
New Jersey All drivers School bus drivers; learner's permit/ intermediate license holders All drivers Primary
New Mexico Local option Learner's permit/ intermediate license holders All drivers Primary
New York All drivers No All drivers Primary
North Carolina No Drivers younger than 18; school bus drivers All drivers Primary
North Dakota No Drivers younger than 18 All drivers Primary
Ohio Local option Drivers younger than 18 All drivers Primary (drivers younger than 18); secondary (all drivers)
Oklahoma learner's permit/intermediate license holders; school bus/public transit drivers School bus/public transit drivers All drivers Primary
Oregon All drivers Drivers younger than 18 All drivers Primary
Pennsylvania Local options No All drivers Primary
Rhode Island All drivers School bus drivers; drivers younger than 18 All drivers Primary
South Carolina No No All drivers Primary
South Dakota No Learner's permit/intermediate license holders All drivers Secondary
Tennessee All drivers Learner's permit/intermediate license holders; school bus drivers All drivers Primary
Texas Drivers in school crossing zones School bus drivers; drivers younger than 18 All drivers Primary
Utah Special considerations* Drivers under the age of 18 All drivers Primary (texting); secondary (talking on a hand-held device)
Vermont All drivers Drivers younger than 18 All drivers Primary
Virginia All drivers Drivers younger than 18; school bus drivers All drivers Primary (all drivers); secondary (drivers younger than 18)
Washington All drivers Learner's permit/intermediate license holders All drivers Primary
West Virginia All drivers Learner's permit/intermediate license holders under 18 All drivers Primary
Wisconsin No Learner's permit/intermediate license holders under 18 All drivers Primary
Wyoming No No All drivers Primary
Washington DC All drivers Learner's permit holders; school bus drivers All drivers Primary

Most people think it’s dangerous

In addition to asking about knowledge around laws, we also wanted to get a sense of how dangerous people think distracted driving is. We asked them to compare the relative danger of texting and driving to drinking and driving.

The vast majority believe that texting and driving is just as dangerous as drinking and driving.

 Which is more dangerous_

This was true across generations: All ages agree that they think texting and driving is as dangerous as drinking and driving. There are some variances, of course. Boomers are the most likely to think both are equally dangerous (80%) and Gen Z is the most likely to think drinking and driving is more dangerous (30%). 

Who's right? For what it’s worth, the number of fatal crashes in the U.S. where alcohol was a prevailing factor are about three times higher than the number of fatal crashes related to texting and driving.[3] However, while we have blood alcohol tests and legal definitions of what it means to drive drunk, it is harder to provide definitive proof of texting and driving unless it is directly witnessed. And as mentioned above, studies show distraction can persist even after the phone is put down. All of which is to say: by the numbers drinking and driving is more dangerous, but texting and driving is likely underreported. And as we know from this survey, it's quite prevalent.

Wrapping up

In this study, we learned that distracted driving behaviors and particularly texting and driving are happening more than in any previous survey we’ve done. We also learned that people are driving with distractions despite considering them dangerous and knowing they are against the law.

Remember to stay safe out there and keep your phone down when driving.

Methodology

The survey was conducted via Survey Monkey in March 2024 and received responses from 998 American drivers.