Distracted Driving Statistics: Research and Facts in 2021

Key insights + statistics

  • In 2019, distracted driving was a reported factor in 8.5% of fatal motor vehicle crashes. (NHTSA)
  • In the U.S, distracted driving claimed the lives of 3,477 people and injured another 391,000 in 2015. (NHTSA)
  • 42% of high school students across the United States admitted that they text or email while driving. (TeenDriversSource)
  • Roughly 20% of injuries occurring in car accident crashes involve distracted driving. (NHTSA)
  • Distracted driving accounted for 27% of all crashes in 2015. (ENDDD)
  • Distracted driving claims eight lives per day — approximately 3,500 per year (CDC).
  • More than 400,000 motorists were injured in accidents caused by distracted driving and 2,800 deaths occurred as a result.  (CDC)
  • Drivers are distracted by their phones at least 10% of their driving time. (NHTSA)
  • Only 47 states (including California) have bans on texting while driving. (IIHS)

 

What is distracted driving?

The exact definition of distracted driving is fairly straightforward: if you engage in an activity that takes your eyes off the road, you are driving distracted. From drinking coffee to checking on the kids in the rearview mirror, distracted driving is all too common, but it is incredibly dangerous. Like texting and driving, this behavior results in loss of the mental focus required to drive safely — even if you look away momentarily. Car crashes due to distracted driving number in the thousands — as the data shows — and thousands of lives are lost each year despite the fact that this negligence is entirely preventable. 

Using national data from the National Highway Safety Association, the Center for Disease Control, and the American Automobile Association, and other publically available resources, the true impact of this reckless behavior on American roads will be determined. Along with The Zebra's own proprietary data, we can better determine how we can better prevent distracted driving. 

 

Table of contents

  1. Recent distracted driving data from a 2021 national survey
  2. Distracted driving data from a 2020 national survey
  3. Distracted driving data from a 2019 national survey
  4. Government data and publicly available resources on distracted driving 
  5. Texting while driving laws in all 50 states
  6. Distracted driving statistics by state
  7. Comparing distracted driving and drunk driving
  8. How many people die from distracted driving each year?
  9. Distracted driving violations and your car insurance
  10. FAQs about distracted driving

 

Distracted driving statistics 2021

In January of 2021, The Zebra reached out to American drivers to understand the habits they engage in behind the wheel of a car. While many claim they never drive while distracted, others admit to engaging in many other behaviors while driving, including texting while driving. 

  • 52.5% of respondents reporting eating while driving, down 4.2% from last year's respondents. Other behaviors include:
    • Texting (23.6%)
    • Taking photos (11.7%)
    • Applying makeup (6.5%)
  • 3.4% admitted to drinking while driving!

Our survey also looked into how many Americans view distracted driving, either as dangerous or not.

  • 36.4% of participants completely agree that using a mobile device hinders your ability to drive, yet 36% admit to engaging in activities with a cellphone while driving. 
  • Less than half of participants completely agree that texting and driving is just as dangerous as drinking and driving, despite numerous studies proving both activities limit your capacity for awareness and focus.
  • Only 4.1% of participants ages 25-34 claimed they felt a high degree of pressure to respond to text messages while driving. In total, 12.1% of respondents in that age group felt any pressure to answer a text at all. 
  • 17.9% of the age group 18-24 felt the most pressure to respond to a text while driving. Interestingly, it is also this age group that is most often in accidents. 

A look at the comparison between Android and Apple users reveals something interesting about the two OS users.

  • 40.4% of Apple users admit engaging with their cellphone while driving, a 13.7% increase from last year's survey from The Zebra. 
  • 55.1% of Android users admit engaging with their cellphone while driving, a 2.7% decrease from last year's survey from The Zebra.

 

Distracted driving statistics 2020

In January 2020, The Zebra conducted a survey to observe the driving behaviors and attitudes of 2,000 Americans.

  • 37.1% of respondents completely agree that distractions on your mobile device impair your ability to drive safely, yet 28.6% of all respondents admitted to texting and driving as their number one distracted driving behavior, over video-chatting, engaging with work emails, and taking photos or videos. 
  • 56.7% of all respondents reported that they eat or drink while driving. 
  • 8.9% of respondents aged 25 to 34 said they felt a high degree of pressure to respond to a text message as soon as it came in, and 7.3% of that same age group also felt a high degree of pressure to respond to work-related messages/emails while driving.
  • Of those respondents who completely agree that texting and driving are equally as dangerous as drinking and driving, 39.9% said they have engaged with drinking alcohol while driving.

Following up on a survey conducted in 2019 by The Zebra, we analyzed the driving patterns of individuals categorized by their mobile device's operating system. 

  • 58.6% of respondents using Apple iOS said they felt a very high degree of pressure to respond to a text message, while only 17.7% of Google Android users felt the same. 
  • 70.4% of Apple iOS using-respondents admitted to video-chatting while driving, while only 23.7% made the same choice. 
  • 53.7% of Android users in this survey completely agree texting and driving is equally dangerous as drinking and driving, while only 51.5% of iPhone users feel the same way. 
distracted_driving_statistics_2020

2019 distracted driving statistics

In March 2019, The Zebra conducted a survey of the driving behaviors and attitudes of 2,000 Americans.

  • 37% of respondents aged 18 to 34 said they felt a high degree of pressure to respond to work-related messages while driving, compared to 25% of the national average among all age groups.
  • Parents with young children were more likely to be distracted while driving (87%) than were adults with no small children (74%).
  • One in three female drivers admitted to taking photos while driving.

Our study also uncovered variations in distracted driving behavior based on the operating system of the cell phone the driver used.

  • 16% of iPhone users said they never get distracted while driving (vs. 23% of Android users and 38% of users of other mobile operating systems).
  • iPhone and Apple Carplay users are more than twice as likely as Android users to video-chat, use Instagram, stream shows on Netflix or Hulu, and take photos and videos while driving.
  • 10% of iPhone users admitted watching videos on YouTube while driving, while 4% of Android users admitted to doing the same.
distracted_driving_behavior_OS

Distracted driving statistics prior to 2019 (2012-2018)

The following data comes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Safety Council & internal reporting from The Zebra.

The phrases “driving while texting” and “driving while distracted” may seem interchangeable, but “distracted driving” encompasses much more than checking your cell phone at a stoplight. Distracted driving has major ramifications related to traffic safety, driving violations, and corresponding impacts on insurance rates

If you aren't giving your full attention to the road, the cars around you, and the speed limit, you are driving distracted. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, three types of distracted driving exist:

  1. Manual distraction: when a driver takes their hands off the wheel to adjust the radio, reach for an item, or pet their dog.
  2. Visual distraction: when a driver takes their eyes off the road to look at an accident, glance at a text message, or look at their kids in the back seat.
  3. Cognitive distraction: when a driver takes their mind off the act of driving to daydream, think about a problem at work, or consider their grocery list.

These distractions may seem fairly innocuous, but a lot can happen in an instant.

  • According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), 31% of drivers are distracted by their dogs in the car. While 80% of people admitted to driving frequently with their pets, only 17% used a pet restraint, such as a seatbelt or kennel.
  • A driver is eight times more likely to be involved in a crash when reaching for an object and three times more likely to crash while eating or drinking.
  • Distracted driving — including texting while driving — is the cause of more than 58% of crashes involving teen drivers.

If these statistics are startling to you, distracted driving awareness month is every April. Consider using next April to learn more about this epidemic that's threatening safe driving habits. 

 

Texting while driving and cellphone use laws by state

StateHand-held banAll cellphone banTexting banEnforcement
AlabamaNoDrivers age 16 and 17 who have held an intermediate license for less than 6 months.All driversPrimary
AlaskaNoNoAll driversPrimary
ArizonaYesSchool bus drivers; learner's permits and provisional license holders for six monthsAll driversPrimary (school bus drivers); secondary (young drivers)
ArkansasDrivers ages 18-20; schools zones; highway work zonesSchool bus drivers; drivers younger than 18All driversPrimary (school bus drivers); secondary (young drivers, drivers in school/work zones)
CaliforniaAll driversSchool/transit bus drivers; drivers younger than 18All driversprimary (hand held/texting), secondary (young drivers)
ColoradoNoDrivers younger than 18All driversPrimary
ConnecticutAll driversSchool bus drivers; learner's permits; driver's younger than 18All driversPrimary
DelawareAll drivers/td>School bus drivers; learner's permit and intermediate licenseAll driversPrimary
FloridaNoNoAll driversPrimary
GeorgiaAll driversSchool bus drivers; drivers younger than 18All driversPrimary
HawaiiAll driversDrivers younger than 18All driversPrimary
IdahoNoNoAll driversPrimary
IllinoisAll driversSchool bus drivers; learner's permit holders younger than 19; drivers younger than 19All driversPrimary
IndianaNoDrivers under the age of 21All driversPrimary
IowaNoLearner's permit hand intermediate license holdersAll driversPrimary; for all offenses
KansasNoLearner's permit hand intermediate license holdersAll driversPrimary
KentuckyNoSchool bus drivers; drivers younger than 18All driversPrimary
LouisianaNoSchool bus drivers; learner's permit hand intermediate license holders; drivers younger than 18All driversPrimary
MaineAll driversLearner's permit hand intermediate license holdersAll driversPrimary
MarylandAll driversLearner's permit hand intermediate license holders under 18; school bus driversAll driversPrimary
MassachusettsLocal optionsSchool/passenger bus drivers; drivers younger than 18All driversPrimary
MichiganLocal optionsLevel 1 or 2 license holdersAll driversPrimary
MinnesotaYesSchool bus drivers; learner's permit/provisional license holders for 12 monthsAll driversPrimary
MississippiNoSchool bus driversAll driversPrimary
MissouriNoNoDrivers 21 or youngerPrimary
MontanaNoNoNoNot applicable
NebraskaNoLearner's permit/ intermediate license holders younger than 18All driversSecondary
NevadaAll driversNoAll driversPrimary
New HampshireAll driversDrivers younger than 18All driversPrimary
New JerseyAll driversSchool bus drivers; learner's permit/ intermediate license holdersAll driversPrimary
New MexicoLocal optionLearner's permit/ intermediate license holdersAll driversPrimary
New YorkAll driversNoAll driversPrimary
North CarolinaNoDrivers younger than 18; school bus driversAll driversPrimary
North DakotaNoDrivers younger than 18All driversPrimary
OhioLocal optionDrivers younger than 18All driversPrimary (drivers younger than 18); secondary (all drivers)
Oklahomalearner's permit/intermediate license holders; school bus/public transit driversSchool bus/public transit driversAll driversPrimary
OregonAll driversDrivers younger than 18All driversPrimary
PennsylvaniaLocal optionsNoAll driversPrimary
Rhode IslandAll driversSchool bus drivers; drivers younger than 18All driversPrimary
South CarolinaNoNoAll driversPrimary
South DakotaNoLearner's permit/intermediate license holdersAll driversSecondary
TennesseeYesLearner's permit/intermediate license holders; school bus driversAll driversPrimary
TexasDrivers in school crossing zonesSchool bus drivers; drivers younger than 18All driversPrimary
UtahSpecial considerations*Drivers under the age of 18All driversPrimary (texting); secondary (talking on a hand-held device)
VermontAll driversDrivers younger than 18All driversPrimary
VirginiaNoDrivers younger than 18; school bus driversAll driversPrimary (all drivers); secondary (drivers younger than 18)
WashingtonAll driversLearner's permit/intermediate license holdersAll driversPrimary
West VirginiaAll driversLearner's permit/intermediate license holders under 18All driversPrimary
WisconsinNoLearner's permit/intermediate license holders under 18All driversPrimary
WyomingNoNoAll driversPrimary
Washington DCAll driversLearner's permit holders; school bus driversAll driversPrimary

 

Ranking distracted driving habits by state

The following data comes from Quartz and Zendrive. Please refer to their websites for additional information regarding the data below. 

Based on Zendrive's data from 4.5 million drivers, all 50 states and D.C. were ranked based on drivers' percentage of driving time spent using their phone. Mississippi had the highest percentage with 8%, while the lowest was 5.2% for Oregon. Here are the top nine states:

StateDriving Time Spent Using Phone
Mississippi8.0%
Rhode Island7.7%
Louisiana7.7%
Oklahoma7.1%
Connecticut7.0%
Texas7.0%
Arkansas6.9%
Massachusetts6.9%
District of Columbia6.9%

 

Distracted driving vs. drunk driving — which is more dangerous?

The Transport Research Laboratory found that "writing a text message slows driver reactions by 35% while drinking alcohol up to the legal limit slows reactions by 12%." Yet many Americans are still unconvinced that drunk driving is more dangerous than driving while distracted. But let's break down the undeniable facts: 

  • Loss of life
    • Drunk driving claims 29 lives per day, more than 10,000 per year.
    • Distracted driving claims 9 lives per day — approximately 3,500 per year.
  • Economic impact
    • Distracted driving costs society $40 billion a year.
    • DUIs cost $44 billion per year.
  • Violations by state
    • Only 47 states have laws against distracted driving, while 16 have specific laws against texting and driving, implementing a texting ban.
    • All 50 states have laws against drunk driving and law enforcement knows how to identify a drunk driver.
  • Legal fines
    • Drivers can receive a fine of up to $500 for a distracted driving offense.
    • Drivers receive a fine of $1,500 for their first DUI.

 

Distracted driving fatality statistics

The NHTSA has published their annual Motor Vehicle Crash report for 2019. Overall, the total average motor vehicle deaths went down from 2018 to 2019:

  • 36,096 people were killed in motor vehicle traffic
    crashes, a 2% decrease from 36,835 fatalities in 2018 with
  • 2.74 million people were injured on U.S roads in 2019, increasing 1.1% from 2018.
  • 6.76 million were in police-reported accidents in 2019, increasing 0.3% from the previous year.

Additional NHTSA data states that roughly, nine people are killed and more than 1,000 injured daily in accidents in which at least one driver was distracted. Additional data includes:

  • Nearly 4,000 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015.
  • Distracted driving was the reported cause of death of 3,450 people in 2016.
  • An estimated 391,000 drivers were injured in distracted driving crashes in 2017.
  • For comparison, there were 39,773 gun deaths in the United States in 2017.
  • In 2019, distracted driving was a reported factor in 8.5% of fatal motor vehicle crashes.
distracted driving deaths 2019

 

Distracted driving insurance ramifications

How does a ticket impact car insurance rates? In 2011, a distracted driving violation raised a driver’s car insurance rates by less than 16%, equating to less than $100 per year in extra premiums.In 2020, a cell phone violation can increase your insurance premiums by 21.38%.

From 2019 to 2020, the percent increase on your premium for a cellphone violation stayed the same at 22%, the trend leveling out from its upward climb since 2011. But the penalty for distracted driving has increased notably in recent years as insurers learn more about the costs and more states create laws prohibiting it.

  • While most states have passed anti-distracted driving laws to penalize drivers for distracted driving, these insurance rate penalties range from $87 in some states to $762 in others.
  • Vermont's auto insurers apply the harshest insurance penalty for distracted driving, with a 56% premium increase (more than $600 per year).
  • New York has the most lenient distracted driving penalty; a distracted driving violation increases insurance rates for New York state drivers by just 5%.

Read more about the methodology used to gather insurance rates.

distracted driving violations

 

FAQs about distracted driving

What are the four types of distractions while driving?

The four types of distractions for drivers are: 

  1. Visual: looking at something other than the road 
  2. Auditory: hearing something not related to driving
  3. Manual: taking hands off the wheel 
  4. Cognitive: thinking about something other than driving 

What are the top 10 distractions while driving?

According to Toyota Arlington, the top ten distractions while driving are: 

  1. Lost in thought
  2. Cell phone use 
  3. Looking at something outside the car 
  4. Someone in the car 
  5. Using a device within the car, other than a phone 
  6. Eating or drinking
  7. Adjusting the radio or A/C 
  8. Using a vehicle function such as cruise control 
  9. Moving objects 
  10. Smoking  

Why is distracted driving a problem?

Every type of distracted driving increases your risk of a car crash, injury, and even death. For example, reaching for an object increases a driver's risk of crashing by 800%. 

What are the 3 main types of distracted driving?

The three main types of distracted driving are:

  1. Visual
  2. Cognitive
  3. Manual

 

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Resources

 

Methodology

This study was conducted for The Zebra using Google Consumer Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,000 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. This survey was conducted in January 2021. 

Copyright © 2021 InsuranceZebra, Inc. All rights reserved. For inquiries regarding this content, please contact our team at statistics@thezebra.com.

Taylor Covington
Taylor CovingtonContent Researcher

An in-house qualitative researcher for The Zebra, Taylor collects, organizes, and analyzes data to shine a light on trends in the insurance industry and beyond. Taylor's data studies have been cited by Yahoo Finance, The Atlantic, MSN, PolicyAdvice, Fox Business, The Simple Dollar, Hippo Insurance, and Bloomberg.

In her hometown of Austin, Texas, she can be found reading at Half Price Books or eating the world's greatest pizza at Via 313.