According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving claimed 3,142 lives in 2020.
One of the most dangerous forms of distracted driving is texting while driving. Studies show that sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the entire length of a football field with your eyes closed.
Driving is a task that requires your full and undivided attention to keep you — and everyone else on the road — as safe as possible. Read on to learn all about texting and driving — what makes it dangerous, the most important statistics about its effects, and how you can work to keep our roads safer for everyone who uses them.
What Is Texting and Driving?
Distracted driving is any activity that diverts your attention away from driving while you’re behind the wheel. This can include talking to other people in your vehicle, eating or drinking, choosing music or adjusting the stereo, setting up a navigation system, or anything else that takes your attention away from the task at hand: driving safely.
One of the most common forms of distracted driving in the age of cell phones is texting and driving. But texting and driving isn’t always just sending and receiving text messages. Cell phones can be distracting to drivers in many different ways. Talking on your cell phone, reading or answering a text, setting up your GPS, searching or browsing the web, playing a mobile game, or using an app are just some of the ways cell phones can distract you while you’re behind the wheel.
Laws Against Texting and Driving
There’s no national ban in the U.S. against texting or using a cell phone while driving. That’s been left up to individual states, and many of them have now passed laws that limit cell phone use while driving in different ways.
According to the non-profit Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA):
- Nearly every state has passed some form of legislation related to distracted driving, but some states are behind when it comes to including cell phones and other newer technology in those laws.
- Still, 48 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) currently have laws that ban texting while driving.
- 24 states and D.C. have laws that ban handheld cell phone use while driving.
- 37 states and D.C. ban all cell phone use by novice drivers.
- 23 states and D.C. ban all cell phone use by bus drivers.
There are no states that completely ban cell phone use while driving. The 24 states that have banned handheld cell phone use still permit drivers to use hands-free mobile phones. But states like California have shown that this can be an effective way to reduce distracted driving and its disastrous effects.
California Laws Against Texting and Driving
In California, only completely hands-free cell phone use is allowed while driving. If a law enforcement officer sees you behind the wheel with a cell phone in your hand, even for a moment, they’re likely to pull you over and give you a ticket. The only exception is if there’s an emergency happening and you’re calling for help.
The law applies to anyone driving in the state of California, whether they live there or not. And if a driver is under 18, all cell phone use while driving is prohibited, even if it’s hands-free.
What Makes Texting and Driving So Dangerous?
In 2019, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety surveyed drivers and found that a staggering number of them — 96 percent — believed that texting or emailing while driving is a serious or very serious threat to their safety.
However, even though the vast majority of drivers acknowledged how dangerous it is to text and drive, 39 percent of them admitted that they had read a text or email while driving at some point in the month prior. 29 percent admitted that they had written a text or email while driving during the same time period.
Texting while driving is one of the most dangerous forms of distracted driving because it causes all three of the different types of distractions for drivers:
- Manual: texting while driving requires at least one hand to be away from the steering wheel and on your phone.
- Visual: reading or writing on a cell phone requires looking at the screen, which takes your eyes off the road.
- Cognitive: using a cell phone distracts your mind from the task of driving, which can create a dangerous situation for yourself and others on the road.
Studies show that using your phone to send a text while driving can slow down your reaction time as much as drinking four beers in an hour before getting behind the wheel. This is why experts often say that texting while driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving.
And the effects of texting can last far longer than just the time it takes to read or write a quick message. AAA estimates that when you take your eyes off the road to use your phone, it can take as long as 27 seconds to recover and reorient your eyes to driving. This is called the “hangover effect,” and it can happen even if you only text while sitting at a stop sign or red light.
Texting and Driving Statistics You Should Know
According to 2020 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, cell phone use was a factor in:
- 13 percent of all fatal distracted driving accidents.
- 9 percent of all injury crashes that involved a distracted driver.
- 9 percent of all police-reported distracted driving crashes.
The NHTSA also estimates that at any given time, there are 660,000 drivers using their cell phones while operating a vehicle.
In 2021, the insurance company The Zebra surveyed drivers about their texting and driving behavior. That survey found:
- 16.2 percent of drivers admitted to texting while driving, down 2.2 percent from 2020.
- More than half of drivers — 52.4 percent — believe that using your cell phone’s GPS while driving is less dangerous than texting while driving.
- 57.65 percent said that talking on the phone while driving is less dangerous than texting while driving.
- More women (52.4 percent) admitted to texting while driving than men (47.6 percent).
- 31.6 percent of drivers said they were very familiar with their state’s texting and driving laws, compared to just 29.4 percent in 2020.
60% of teens 18 and older admit to emailing or texting and driving compared to 16% of 15- and 16-year-olds (CDC)
More than half of drivers (51 percent) admitted they text and/or email while alone in the vehicle
Those aged 25 to 34 are even more likely (59 percent) to text and/or email while driving alone
A quarter (26 percent) of drivers say it’s OK to use a cell phone if they are alone and at a complete stop with no other passengers in the vehicle
Texting and Driving Deaths
In 2020, there were 396 people killed in car accidents that were caused by texting and driving. That’s more than one death per day.
Thankfully, though, the number of people killed each year in texting and driving crashes has been declining. This is likely due to the prevalence of state laws that put restrictions on cell phone use while driving. Texting and driving is now banned in almost all U.S. states.
Drivers are not the only people at risk in texting and driving crashes. The NHTSA reported that in 2019, distracted driving crashes killed 723 passengers, 462 pedestrians, and 77 bicyclists nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2019, one in five people killed in crashes involving a distracted driver were not in a vehicle — they were walking, biking, or otherwise outside a vehicle.
Texting and Driving in Different Age Groups
Young drivers are at greater risk for many kinds of risky driving behaviors, crashes, and deaths while behind the wheel. The age group with the highest rate of drivers being found responsible for a fatal crash was those under 20, who were found at-fault in about 9 percent of all fatal crashes in 2019.
In 2019, the CDC surveyed teens about risky driving behaviors and found:
- 39 percent of high school students reported texting or emailing while driving at least once in the prior 30 days.
- Students who got As and Bs were just as likely to text and drive as students who got Cs, Ds, and Fs.
- Students who admitted to texting and driving were more likely to admit to other risky driving behaviors, like not wearing a seatbelt, riding with a driver who had been drinking alcohol, or driving after drinking alcohol themselves.
According to a AAA survey, 35 percent of teenages admit to texting and driving, even though 94 percent of them say they understand how dangerous it is. One in four teens admits to responding to at least one text message every time they drive. 20 percent of teens admit to having conversations consisting of multiple text messages while driving (compared to just 10 percent of their parents).
One analysis found that teens who text and drive spend about 10 percent of their driving time outside of their lane.
And the U.S. Department of Transportation conducted a study that showed that drivers aged 16 to 34 have been using handheld electronic devices while driving at a higher rate than older drivers consistently since 2007.
Texting and Driving Consequences
Aside from the increased risk of accidents, injury, and death, the consequences for texting and driving are defined by each state’s laws and vary. Fines can start as low as $20, but the average is $500 or more for a texting and driving ticket. Some states have gone even further and made this into a serious offense; in Alaska, for example, texting and driving is a misdemeanor criminal charge that can carry up to a year of jail time and a $10,000 fine.
If you get a texting and driving ticket, fines and fees are only the beginning. The ticket can also cause your car insurance rates to increase, which can cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars over years of your life.
In California, if you get two cell phone tickets within 36 months of each other, the second ticket becomes a one-point offense, meaning the DMV adds a negligent operator point to your license. Insurance companies can see these points and increase your premiums. But you may have another option. California DMV rules allow you to “mask” up to one point on your license by attending a licensed DMV traffic school. This doesn’t remove the ticket from your driving record, but it hides it from insurance companies so they won’t increase your premiums.
Best Online Traffic School is fully licensed by the California DMV and available anywhere in the state. Our fully online program can be completed on any internet-connected device on your own time. Start traffic school for free today.
How to Prevent Texting and Driving
Below are some tips and strategies you can use to prevent distracted driving for yourself, your loved ones, and others in your community.
Get Ready Before You Get Behind the Wheel
Before you start driving, do everything that requires your cell phone. Answer texts, make calls, set up your music, and program your navigation before you start the vehicle. Then, place your phone on driving mode or “do not disturb” and place it out of sight for the duration of your drive.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
Many phones now come pre-programmed with “do not disturb” mode, which will limit notifications so you can focus on important tasks like driving. Many also have driving modes — and some can even detect when you’re in a moving vehicle and trigger driving mode automatically.
In addition, more and more insurance companies are using mobile phone apps to track and monitor their customers’ driving behaviors. These are programs that you can opt into, allowing your insurance company insight into how you drive, typically in exchange for a discount on your insurance premiums for driving safely. Having this extra layer of accountability can help you avoid distracted driving.
Talk to New Drivers in Your Life
Since newer drivers (especially teens) are more likely to text and drive, have frequent, serious conversations with them about the dangers and potential consequences of distracted driving. This is especially true if you’re a parent, teacher, or someone else who spends a lot of time with young drivers. Encourage them to speak up if they see a friend engaging in dangerous driving behaviors, and position yourself as a safe adult that they can come to with any questions or concerns about distracted driving.
Engage With Family and Friends
Don’t only talk to young people — have conversations with all your family and friends about how distracted driving can kill. If you’re ever in a vehicle with a distracted driver, speak up about it.
Set a Good Example
In addition to talking to others about the dangers of texting and driving, it’s important to lead by example. Don’t ever text and drive, even when you’re alone in the vehicle.
Support Local Laws Banning Cell Phone Use While Driving
States that have banned handheld cell phone use while driving have seen decreases in distracted driving incidents, accidents, and deaths. The laws work, so you can help prevent distracted driving in your area by supporting stricter local laws. Speak out at community meetings and on social media, and consider writing letters to the editor of your local newspaper supporting any potential laws.