In 2019, 3,142 people were killed in distracted driving incidents. And despite the COVID-19 pandemic, distracted driving continues to uptick and endanger road safety. April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, but road safety reminders keep yourself and others safe year-round.
Drivers have different definitions and examples of distracted driving. The National Highway and Traffic Safety Association defines distracted driving as “any activity that diverts attention from driving.” That includes talking on the phone, controlling the stereo, texting, and other actions.
Distracted Driving Laws and Penalties
Did you know that there’s not a nationwide ban on cellphone use while driving? Despite not having a federal law, phone calls and text messages are the most common forms of distracted driving. Sixty-eight percent of distracted driving is from smartphone use, while the other 32% stems from eating or smoking.
Ryan McMahon, vice president of Insurance and Government Affairs at Cambridge Mobile Telematics, shared that distracted driving laws are most effective when the state has regular communication to its drivers reminding them of the law. Surprisingly, distracted driving laws are most effective up to 90 days before implementation. McMahon said it’s critical that states widely communicate the laws and dangers of distracted driving to show how serious it is. But many state’s rarely communicate their bans, penalties and changes for drivers to be aware of.
Each state’s law on distracted driving and cellphone use is different. The National Conference of State Legislatures has each state’s law regarding distracted driving using a cellphone. Some laws restrict teenagers and school bus drivers from using cellphones while driving, while other laws prohibit cellphone use in work and school zones.
In total, 48 states and D.C. have banned texting while driving, and 36 states and D.C. also prohibit young drivers from using a cellphone while driving. Take a look at the map below to see if your state has any texting, handheld or cellphone ban. NCSL has more information on driver and location limitations for each state’s regulations.
Types of Distracted Driving
There are three types of distracted driving. Every kind of distraction is dangerous and can result in injuries or fatal car crashes. No matter the reason, always remember to keep your focus on the road and pull over if you need to send a text or do anything that will shift your focus for even a few seconds. We’ve included a few examples for each type.
- Visual: Taking your eyes off the road for other tasks such as texting, looking in another direction while driving or looking at the GPS.
- Manual: Taking your hands off the wheel to do something else such as makeup, eat or drink.
- Cognitive: Shifting your attention off of the road to think about work issues, family plans or fatigue.
What Is the “Distraction Hangover?”
Research shows that drivers are usually distracted and unaware of their surroundings for 23 seconds after doing any activity while simultaneously driving. This is otherwise known as a “distraction hangover.” It isn’t just the activity counting toward distracted driving time — your focus often stays on the action for up to 10 seconds after. Screen interaction distraction and phone call distraction are the two most common activities that pull drivers’ attention and lead to accidents even after the action has stopped.
Distracted Driving During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many state-mandated stay-at-home orders and fewer trips out and about. But the roads have become more dangerous with reckless and distracted driving. The National Safety Council reported that 42,060 people died in car accidents last year, up 8% from 2019. It’s the highest increase year-over-year since 1924. There were also 4.8 million serious injuries from car crashes last year, which raises the question of how many were due to distracted driving.
Thanks to pandemic-induced empty roads, many drivers sped and drove distracted. The latest NSC Distracted Driving Survey found that 2% of drivers admitted to driving distracted because of less congested roads. As a result, the NSC recommends a nationwide ban on all cellphone use while driving, including hands-free options.
Talking to Teens About Distracted Driving
Young adults and teenagers are the most at risk for distracted driving. In 2018, 25% of distracted drivers were between the ages of 20 and 29, and 9% of teen fatal car crashes involved distracted driving. Talking to teens and young adults about distracted driving can be scary and challenging. Here are a few tips for parents to share with teens when talking about the dangers of distracted driving and road safety.
- Put your phone out of sight and unreachable while driving. Some smartphones can automatically decline calls and send automated text messages letting your loved one know you’re driving and that you’ll respond later.
- Make sure everything’s set before you drive. Adjust the car’s thermostat, mirrors and queue up the music you want to hear beforehand. Remember to keep the music low enough to listen for ambulances, horns or other noises.
- Don’t drive while you’re tired or not focused. Suppose you’re tired or need to take a break and pull over to reset. It’s okay to take a nap or rest before finishing your drive. Be sure to park where it’s safe and let a loved one know that you stopped.
- Pullover to get directions or look for loose items. It’s easy to get distracted and take your eyes off the road when looking for something or at GPS directions. It’s best to park somewhere to get your bearings or find what you’re looking for safely.
If you’re riding with a distracted driver, remind them that road safety is the top priority. And if they’re still distracted, it’s okay to ask them to stop or pullover for your safety. Speaking up could save a life.
Reminder: Distracted Driving Is Dangerous
Above all, remember that distracted driving is dangerous and can be deadly. Pay close attention to the road and other cars to practice driving safety. If you’re tired, need to send a text or aren’t focused, pull over or wait until you’re parked. Remember, distracted driving can come at a hefty cost that isn’t worth paying. It can wait.