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What Is Distracted Driving? [Risks and Prevention Tips]

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UPDATED: Mar 18, 2020

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In 2017, almost 3,000 car crashes were caused by distracted driving, according to the Insurance Information Institute. With new drivers on the road every year, it’s important to understand what distracted driving is and how to prevent it.

What Is Distracted Driving?

driver on phone in car

Distracted driving occurs when something takes a driver’s attention away from driving safely. This could be anything that takes attention away from driving such as: using a cell phone, talking with other people in the car, adjusting the radio station.

Just one thing that that takes the driver’s attention away from the road – even for just a moment – counts as a distraction. Though many associate distracted driving with cell phone use, there are three main types of distractions:

  • Visual: when a driver’s eyes are taken off the road to look at an accident or to glance at their phone.
  • Manual: when a driver takes their hands off the wheel to adjust the radio volume or to eat or drink.
  • Cognitive: when a driver’s mind wanders and does not focus on driving.

These types of distractions happen every day, multiple times a day. Though these moments of lost focus seem slight, circumstances can change in an instant, especially in a vehicle traveling at 60 miles per hour or faster.

Distracted Driving Statistics

Distracted driving is an evolving issue across the country. As it becomes more prevalent, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has begun to collect data to help understand the scope and nature of the issue.

Here are the most relevant distracted driving statistics from the latest report:

  • 3,166 people died in 2017 due to distracted driving.
  • 401 fatal crashes were reported to have involved cell phone use as a distraction.
  • 13% of distraction-affected accidents were caused by drivers using their cell phones.
  • 599 pedestrians, bicyclists, and others were killed in distraction-affected crashes.

Texting while driving is one of the most common and most worrisome forms of distracted driving. According to the Insurance Information Institute, many drivers have opted to put away their cell phones and adopt hands-free devices, but as new drivers get on the road and technology becomes an increasingly important part of our lives, the chance of a distraction-affected accident increases.

Please note: Not all of the 2017 victims of distracted drivers were in a car. It’s essential for drivers to be aware of all people and potential obstacles in their surroundings.

Who Is at Risk of Distracted Driving?

All drivers are at risk of distracted driving. It can happen any time anyone gets behind the wheel. Even if motorists aren’t using a phone or eating while driving, thoughts can wander and take attention away from the road. However, research indicates that teenagers, young adults, and inexperienced drivers are most likely to succumb to distracted driving, which is why teens are often faced with higher insurance premiums.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 135,000 adolescents died from traffic accidents in 2016.

Their lack of experience and risky driving leaves insurance companies fearing the worst. In fact, car-related accidents are the leading cause of death in teens, as noted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). But if they follow basic safety steps and act responsibly behind the wheel, teens – all inexperienced drivers – can easily beat those odds.

While the teen driver statistics sure aren’t pretty, it is actually adults ages 20-29 that have the highest percentage of distracted driving accidents, according to the same data from the NHTSA. In 2017, young adults made up 37% of distracted drivers who were using their cell phones in fatal accidents.

Although never driving distracted will drastically lower your chances, it won’t make you immune to traffic accidents. Enter your zip code in our free tool below to compare a few of the best insurance policies in your area to ensure you’re fully protected.

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Consequences of Distracted Driving

Distracted driving has a range of consequences. It could be as minor as getting a small scare when you realize how close you came to hitting someone or something, or it could result in extreme injuries and even fatalities. If the accident caused damage to another car, it is likely that legal consequences might be an impending result.

Depending on which state you’re in, penalties on insurance could burn through large portions of your money quickly, but this still pales in comparison to the lives put in danger by distracted driving.

Distracted Driving Prevention

Distracted driving can be a danger to everyone, and it’s important to take steps to prevent it. Some states have even passed laws to try to reduce the number of distracted drivers on the road.

Here are a few ways you can work to prevent distracted driving:

  • Use Alternative Transportation: This can be in the form of a bike, bus, train, or ride-sharing app. Besides biking, these forms of transportation eliminate the chances of distracted driving.
  • Turn Off Your Phone (or Connect to Bluetooth): As stated above, texting and calling are the number one cause of distracted driving. Leave cell phones in a bag, or turn them off completely to reduce the urge to check them.

Texting while driving increases the risk of accident 23.2 times over unimpaired driving.

  • Eat Before Driving: Long days happen, and sometimes that means forgetting to eat. Instead of putting others at risk by eating on the road, pull over or stay in the parking lot until the meal is finished. The same goes for drinks.
  • Graduated Driver Licensing: This program lowers driving risks for young teen drivers. They go through a three-stage system that allows them to experience driving conditions under supervision.
  • Get Adequate Rest: Drowsy driving is extremely dangerous, and with today’s fast-paced world, it doesn’t just happen at night. Stop to rest by pulling over. There are many rest stops and turn outs along a highway, and even just a 20-minute nap can do wonders for alertness.
  • Always Obey the Rules of the Road: There is a reason there are speed limits and driving etiquette — to keep all drivers safe. Respect the rules of the road, but always be wary of other drivers.

While cell phones are the leading cause of distracted driving, they are not the only reason. There are many other ways that drivers can become distracted, and each can have a dangerous effect.

When you’re behind the wheel, driving is your only job.

Understanding what causes distracted driving and how to prevent it can ensure roads stay safer in the future.

About Eric Stauffer

Author: Eric StaufferI am a former insurance agent and banker turned consumer advocate. My priority is to help educate individuals and families about the different types of insurance they need, and assist them in finding the best place to get it.

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