Key insights + statistics
- Cell phone usage reduces a driver’s attention by as much as 37%. (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute)
- In 2015, 42% of high school students admitted that they text or email while driving. (AT&T)
- In 2015, 391,000 people were injured due to distracted driving (NHTSA)
- In 2018, 400,000 people were injured and 2,800 people died in distracted driving motor vehicle accidents. (NHTSA)
- Approximately 660,000 drivers are attempting to use their phones while driving. (NHTSA)
- 14% of fatal crashes involve cell phones. (III)
- Using a phone while driving causes 1.6 million crashes every year. (NSC)
- Drivers who text while operating a vehicle are 23 times more likely to become involved in a car accident. (FCC)
- The chances of an accident occurring once a driver’s eyes are taken off the road increase by a staggering 400%. (NSC)
- More than 3,000 teens die each year in crashes that involve texting and driving. (III)
What are the dangers of texting while driving?
It only takes a second, but it can have life-long repercussions. Texting and driving may seem innocent enough (and it's certainly tempting to do), but every year thousands of faultless drivers and passengers are killed due to the negligence of other drivers. As a form of distracted driving, texting while driving causes the driver to take their focus from the road and onto their hand-held device. Even while at a stoplight, this behavior can be dangerous, as drivers need to maintain total focus in order to drive safely.
14% of all fatal car crashes involve the improper use of a cellphone while driving, according to recent reports. Along with data from the NHTSA, the CDC, the NSC, and The Zebra's own proprietary data, we can further investigate the widespread problem of texting and driving.
Table of contents:
- Texting while driving in 2021
- Texting and driving in 2020
- Texting and driving in 2019
- Death statistics due to texting and driving
- Texting and driving laws
- Texting and driving vs. drinking and driving
- 7 scientific reasons why we text and drive
- Dangers of a texting and driving ticket to insurance
- FAQs about texting while driving behavior
In early 2021, The Zebra, the nation's leading insurance comparison website, launched a new survey to identify texting and driving behavior patterns and beliefs in drivers in the United States. Using similar benchmarks and questions from a 2020 survey also by The Zebra, the results have reflected a shift in driving behavior due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
- 16.2% of drivers in 2021 have texted while driving, a 2.2% decrease from drivers in 2020.
- Over half of all respondents (52.4%) believe that using a GPS on your phone is less dangerous than actually texting while driving, despite studies showing otherwise.
- Nearly 60% of respondents (57.65%) of respondents believe talking on their cell phones is less dangerous than texting while driving!
- More women (52.4%) admitted to texting while driving than men (47.6%).
- There has been an increase in cell phone law awareness in the past year: 31.6% of respondents said they were very familiar with their state's texting and driving laws, in comparison to only 29.4% last year.
- More people have recognized multitasking is near impossible. 8% of respondents in 2020 knew they don’t multitask very well, 12.5% in 2021.
In early 2020, The Zebra, the nation's leading insurance comparison website, launched a new survey to identify awareness around texting and driving behavior patterns and beliefs in drivers in the U.S. Using similar benchmarks and questions from a 2019 survey also by The Zebra, the results have shifted more to a general knowledge that texting while driving is actually very dangerous.
- 15.6% of young drivers (ages 18-24) have admitted to texting while driving and 20% of them claim to be "not familiar at all" with their state's texting while driving laws. This is compared with 12.2% who also reported as being "not at all familiar" with state laws.
- 49% of all respondents believe texting and driving is illegal in all states.
Clearly, despite younger drivers willingness to text while driving, they are not the only victims in a lack of knowledge in public policy. Young drivers are aware they do not know the state law and are willing to admit it.
Much of the data reflected startling assumptions around distracted driving behaviors, not just texting on a cell phone while driving.
- Only 9.5% of respondents labeled using GPS apps on your phone as being more dangerous than simply texting, and over half (53.5%) believe using GPS apps is less dangerous.
- Nearly 60% of respondents do not see talking on the phone as being more dangerous than texting and driving. 9.9% claim it is more dangerous.
When it came to the perception of one's ability to multitask, there was a notable difference between millennials and boomers. Confidence in tasks, like texting while driving, is disparate between the generation of mobile phones versus landlines.
- 29.8% of millennials (age groups 25-34) believe they multitask moderately well, while 20.3% of the respondents in that age group claim they multitask extremely well.
- 33.9% of the boomer age group (55-65+) saw multitasking as a task they do moderately well, while only 13.8% believe they can multitask extremely well.
The Zebra conducted a national survey of drivers to determine their perception of texting and driving.
- 38% of respondents (18-24 age group) rated their knowledge of their state’s own laws about texting & driving as “very familiar.”
55% of these same respondents thought it was illegal to text while driving in all 50 states.
Young drivers reported feeling well-informed regarding their state’s texting and driving laws. However, the group’s responses showed most young drivers incorrectly assumed texting and driving had been outlawed across the United States.
This indicates a knowledge gap among young drivers, especially those who live in states with strict texting and driving laws:
- 36% of respondents (aged 18-24) admitted to texting while driving.
- Of those who admitted to texting while driving, 51% said they were “very” or “extremely” familiar with their state’s texting and driving laws.
- 48% of respondents said they thought driving under the influence of alcohol was more dangerous than texting and driving, though both behaviors can cause fatal car accidents.
- 48% of those surveyed said they thought driving under the influence of alcohol was about as dangerous as texting and driving.
- Young drivers who admitted to texting while driving, or reading a text message while driving, were nearly twice as likely to continue to engage in cell phone use (including reading and sending text messages) than were other respondents, thereby doubling their chances of more than once getting into an accident.
Using a GPS and sending a text message requires similar behaviors and similar use of a device (including hands-free devices or smartphones). But the use of a GPS device is more widely accepted as a benign behavior, compared to texting — despite evidence that both behaviors lead to more car accidents and instances of driver distraction.
- 60% of respondents said they were likely to use a GPS app while driving.
- Only 7% of respondents who said they were likely to use GPS apps while driving also indicated they thought it was more dangerous than using a cell phone to text.
The survey showed a knowledge gap among young adult drivers who feel well-informed about the law and the law enforcement, aware of their ability to handle multiple tasks while distracted, and the realistic possibility for safe driving while distracted.
- 14% of fatal crashes involved the use of cell phones.
- 14% of distracted driving deaths in driving accidents were attributed specifically to cell phone use, as opposed to other forms of distracted driving.
- In 2016, almost four thousand people were killed due to the actions of a distracted driver.
- 4,637 people died in car crashes in 2018 due to cell phone use and electronic device use.
The following data is a replication of a similar distracted driving statistics table found on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Traffic Safety Facts Research Notes from 2016.
|Distracted Driving Deaths||3,328||3,154||3,179||3,477|
|All Motor Vehicle Deaths||33,782||32,894||32,744||35,092|
|Distracted Driving Injuries||421,000||424,000||431,000||391,000|
|All Motor Vehicle Injuries||2,362,000||2,313,000||2,338,000||2,443,000|
- Fatalities involving texting while driving comprised 9% of all fatal crashes nationwide.
- 7% of drivers are using cell phones (including making a phone call) at any given time.
- Texting while driving increases by 400% a driver’s time spent with their eyes off the road.
- The use of a cell phone while driving caused an estimated 1.5 million car crashes in the U.S. in 2017.
- Including the cost to people's lives, these crashes were responsible for $129 billion — or 15 percent — of the overall societal damage caused by motor vehicle crashes. This number only goes up after your primary offense.
|State||Hand-held ban||All cellphone ban||Texting ban||Enforcement|
|Alabama||No||Drivers age 16 and 17 who have held an intermediate license for less than 6 months.||All drivers||Primary|
|Arizona||Yes||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|
|Georgia||All drivers||School bus drivers; drivers younger than 18||All drivers||Primary|
|Hawaii||All drivers||Drivers younger than 18||All drivers||Primary|
|Illinois||All drivers||School bus drivers; learner's permit holders younger than 19; drivers younger than 19||All drivers||Primary|
|Indiana||No||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||Local options||School/passenger bus drivers; drivers younger than 18||All drivers||Primary|
|Michigan||Local options||Level 1 or 2 license holders||All drivers||Primary|
|Minnesota||Yes||School bus drivers; learner's permit/provisional license holders for 12 months||All drivers||Primary|
|Mississippi||No||School bus drivers||All drivers||Primary|
|Missouri||No||No||Drivers 21 or younger||Primary|
|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||Yes||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||No||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|
|Washington DC||All drivers||Learner's permit holders; school bus drivers||All drivers||Primary|
These and additional statistics cited here are from national sources such as the Federal Communications Commission and Edgar Synder & Associates.
- Texting while driving is six times more likely to cause a car accident than drunk driving.
- Men are about four times more likely to drink and drive, but women text and drive more frequently.
- Drunk driving causes about 10,000 fatal crashes and traffic fatalities a year.
- Using a cell phone while driving, whether it’s a hand-held or hands-free device, delays a driver’s reaction time by as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08%.
- We think we can multitask. “Many people believe they can multitask without losing efficacy,” explains Carrie Krawiec, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Michigan. But this is just a fantasy: “Research supports that people cannot devote 100 percent of their attention to each task. The more tasks they add on, the more their attention diminishes—but people believe they are the exception.”
- We think we’re better at it than everyone else. It’s not hard to understand: In order to maintain a habit so dangerous, we’d have to think we were exceptionally good at it, right? “Everyone believes they are an above-average driver to begin with (which, by definition, is not possible. Not everyone can be above average),” says Dr. Frank Bevacqua. “On top of that, however, everyone now believes that they are better at texting and driving than others, so while others shouldn’t do it, they can. Really, it is all just different stages of rationalization.” There’s also room to convince yourself that texting and driving accidents were caused by other factors that are in your control: “You think, Maybe they looked down too long or were not an experienced enough driver,” explains Dr. Judi Cinéas, who practices in Palm Beach, Fla. “That gives the person a sense of comfort that if they do not make those mistakes, then they will be able to safely engage in this dangerous activity.”
- Actually, we basically just think we’re superheroes. “There is a feeling of invincibility that accompanies such dangerous acts,” Bevacqua adds. “Once thought to be primarily reserved for adolescents, [psychologists] now recognize that everyone believes this to some extent: that something, no matter how dangerous, ‘couldn’t possibly happen to me.'”
- We’re expected to be constantly plugged in. Ain’t nobody got time for you not having time for them these days. “I think it’s cultural,” says Lauren Napolitano, Psy.D. “Everyone has an unrealistic sense of time demands now that people are reachable 24/7. There is a lurking anxiety that if we ‘take our time’ on a task or social interaction that we will be replaced by someone ‘better.'”
- Plus, we’re not that great at entertaining ourselves anymore. Dr. Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist and author, says that increasingly, we are unwilling to just be with ourselves. “People have become so used to being “entertained” and occupied all the time that just sitting quietly is a problem,” she says. “And so is focusing on driving.”
- We’re narcissists. Why yes, the world does need like right now our perfect 140-character cultural critique of this new Kanye Katy Perry jam. Because of this sense of narcissism, Napolitano says, “We feel like our thoughts or feelings must be delivered quickly.”
- Our self-esteem feeds on social responses. Allen Wagner, licensed marriage and family therapist, explains exactly what we talk about at The Zebra: It’s not just a text, but a blinking, often pinging notification that becomes so tempting in the car. “Bringing immediate gratification and hope [someone liked my 70th photo of my dog!] to what is usually boring and predictable [red light, again.] can be an enticing thing to open up,” Wagner says.
So How Do We Fight All of This? 3 Practical, Realistic Solutions
Truth is, it’s hard. But it’s also vitally important. Here are three truly worthwhile ideas to help you curb your terrible habit. (And we know you’ve done it because we’re guilty, too!)
- Get the thing out of reach. That glove compartment that isn’t exactly full of gloves? Turn your phone on silent—or airplane mode—and slide it in. If you’re still too tempted, throw it in the trunk before getting behind the wheel. Let your loved ones and coworkers know about your new policy, and suggest they adopt it too. You put your plane on airplane mode for yoga class—can’t you do the same for your drive home?
- Distract yourself—safely. “Try getting audiobooks instead, or listening to interesting radio stations,” Dr. Tessina suggests. “Neither of those is as attention-absorbing as texting, which takes both your attention and your eyes off the road.” (I, personally, am a card-carrying NPR nerd/addict.)
- There’s an app for this. There are actually several of them. AT&T offers a Drive Mode App, which can detect when your car is traveling at more than 25 mph, stop you from sending texts, and even send an automatic response saying you’re driving and can’t talk right now. (It’s like a personal assistant!) Also, don’t forget, if someone is in the car for you, they’re probably about 99 percent happier to text for you than risk you getting them in a wreck. Phone a friend—get it?
In 2020, getting caught texting or otherwise using your phone while driving will raise your insurance rate by an average of 21.65% ($315) — and in some states more than 45.96%. The total cost to your insurance — the rate impact on your policy for three years — for a texting-while-driving violation is $1,772.
- Insurance penalties for distracted driving have grown by nearly 8,000%.
- As of late 2017, insurers in all states penalized distracted drivers. In 2011, insurers in only 10 states raised rates after a distracted driving citation.
- This rate can double if you receive another ticket after your primary offense.
Texting and driving violations by state
|State||$ Increase||% Increase|
|District of Columbia||$262.81||19.01%|
Texting and driving violations in 2020
Getting caught texting or otherwise using your phone while driving will raise your insurance rate an average of 21.5% ($314) — and in some states more than 46%. 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.
Texting and driving car insurance violations in 2019
A ticket for distracted driving — sending a text message or using your cell phone while driving — raised a driver’s car insurance rates by 0.2% in 2011, costing the driver less than $3 per year, on average. Now, the same violation raises rates by 16% — or $226 per year. Across the country, penalties for distracted drivers range from just $2.51 (New York) to $681 (Michigan). In some cities, the penalty nears $2,000.
Please follow here for the methodology behind the acquisition of these rates.
Question: How dangerous is texting and driving?
Answer: Texting while driving is six times more likely to cause a car accident than drunk driving, and is involved in over 1.6 million accidents each year, with over 3,000 teens killed while texting and driving.
Question: What happens when you text and drive?
Answer: When you text and drive, you are being cognitively, visually, and manually distracted from maintaining focus on the road. While it takes only a few seconds to send a text message, you are putting yourself and others at risk.
Question: How much more likely are you to crash if you text while driving?
Answer: The chances of an accident occurring once a driver’s eyes are taken off the road increase by a staggering 400%.
Question: How many deaths from texting and driving in 2019?
Answer: In 2019, 36,096 people were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes because they used a cellphone while driving.
Got a ticket for texting while driving? Compare now for a lower rate on your car insurance premium!
- Distracted Driving | CDC
- The Dangers of Distracted Driving | FCC
- Digest of Motor Laws | AAA
- Distracted Driving | IIHS
- Ending Distracted Driving Is Everyone's Responsibility | NSC
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 February 2020.
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