The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

Teen Driver Distractions

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Special To The Auto Channel
From Bader Scott | Injury Lawyers

Distracted Driving: The Statistics that every Parent Needs to Know

If you are the parent of a child, thank you for clicking on this article. Thank you for fighting through the clutter of the day and intentionally choosing to consume information that may save the lives of children across America. Now, lest you think that this is just an article about your teenage drivers, you need to know that this is about you as well. The statistics tell us that parents with young children are far more likely to be distracted while driving. Yet, if you are the parent of a small child you didn’t need us to tell you that statistic. Distracted driving is a threat to families everywhere and here are the statistics that every parent needs to know. 

Understanding Distracted Driving 

First we must define the nature of distracted driving.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are three types of distracted driving. 

  • Manual Distraction: This is when the driver takes their hands off the wheel for a variety of reasons. It could be to change the station on the radio, perhaps pick up coffee for a sip, or maybe even pet the dog who is enjoying his afternoon ride. 
  • Visual Distraction: This is when you take your eyes off the road. Perhaps it is yell back at your child who is throwing a tantrum or maybe even just take a quick glance at your phone to see if that was a notification from work. It might even be to stop and take a look at the wreck you are passing of the poor soul who couldn’t overcome their distracted driving. 
  • Cognitive Distraction: This is when your mind goes elsewhere while driving. Perhaps you are daydreaming of your upcoming vacation or maybe even playing out an argument with your spouse in your head. Your body and soul are in the car driving, but your mind is elsewhere. 

However, distracted driving by any other name is still distracted driving. 

Distracted Driving is a Universal Problem

As mentioned before, teenage drivers are not the lone culprits of driving while distracted. The following statistics show just how universal this problem has become. 

  • In 2015 alone, there were over 390,000 injuries caused as a result of distracted driving
  • In that very same year, distracted driving was noted as the primary driver behind 3,477 traffic deaths. 
  • A recent survey indicates that 96% of all drivers would label themselves as a safe driver. However, 56% of those same respondents admitted to using a cellphone while driving a motor vehicle. 
  • In another survey, 77% of adults believe they can easily navigate their vehicle while texting on their phones. 
  • More than 28% of all drivers state that they fear they are missing something important when their phone presents a notification.
  • Meanwhile, 8% of drivers go so far as to state that they have watched a video on their cellphone while driving. 

It is clear that distracted driving is a national epidemic and has often been referred to as the “new drunk driving.” 

How Distracted Driving Affects the Driver

Examining the facts closer will reveal just how distracted driving affects us all and has such a high potential to cause injury or death. 

  • It takes but a mere three seconds for a driver’s attention to be diverted before a car crash becomes extremely likely to occur. 
  • Mere adjusting the audio or climate controls while driving is enough to cause a fatality. Changing the radio or adjusting the temperature in the car accounts for 2% of traffic fatalities caused by distracted driving. 
  • Reading a text message while driving will cause a driver to take their eyes off the road for approximately 5 seconds. When driving at speeds of 55 mph, this causes the driver to cover the distance of an entire football field with the equivalent of having their eyes closed. 
  • Overall, texting while driving results in a driver spending 400% more time with their eyes off the road. 
  • An incoming message on your phone causes an increase in the release of dopamine to the brain. This chemical feeling attributes to the feeling of arousal making the compulsion to answer your phone stronger. 
  • Drivers are 12.2 times more likely to crash while dialing a phone. 

Distracted Driving and Teenagers

While distracted driving is a threat to everyone, unfortunately teen drivers often bear the brunt of the consequences. Here are the stats on teens and distracted driving. 

  • Distracted driving is thought to be responsible for over 58% of teenage car crashes
  • Meanwhile, car crashes are the number one cause of teenage deaths in the United States. 
  • When a teen has just one additional passenger with them in the car, the risk of getting into a fatal car crash doubles. 
  • When a teen has two or more passengers in the car, the odds of such a crash becoming shockingly higher at five times as likely. 

Cell Phone Use and Teenage Drivers

Teenagers report that the fear of missing out drives them to answer their phones when they realize they should not. 

  • Most teenagers of driving age have a cell phone in order for parents to be able to reach them at all times. However, cell phone use is the second largest cause of distracted driving. 
  • Each day, the statistics tell us that 11 teenagers will tragically die as a result of driving while texting on the phone. 
  • There is an AAA poll that tells us that 94% of teenage drivers will acknowledge that texting while driving is extremely dangerous. Sadly, 35% of those same teenagers admit to texting while driving, despite the known dangers. 
  • Moreover, 55% of teenage drivers believe that they can pull off the task of texting while driving. 
  • In another survey, 25% of teenage drivers say that answer at least one text every single time that they drive. 
  • In addition, 20% of teenage drivers say they have extended, mult-message text conversations while they are driving. 

With 28% of teenagers reporting that they are missing something important when their phone notifies them of a message or email. The above stats demonstrate just how glaring this problem is for teenage drivers.

Kids, Pets and other Distractions on the Road

Whereas cellphone use is a growing phenomenon and cause of distracted driving, it is not the lone culprit. There are many more mundane causes of distracted driving and all must be understood. 

  • Over the duration of a 16 minute car ride, kids in the car will cause the average parent to take their eyes off the road for an average of 3 minutes and 22 seconds. 
  • In addition to kids, 65% of dog owners report being distracted by their pets while driving them as a passenger in the car. 
  • Only 17% of pet owners reported utilizing a pet restraint such as a seatbelt or a kennel. 
  • A report by the NHTSA discovered that drivers who eat or drink on the road become 80% more likely to get into a car accident. 
  • In a recent survey more than 56.7% of all respondents reported eating or drinking while driving. 
  • One in three female drivers admitted to taking photographs while behind the wheel. 
  • Approximately 53% of drivers hold the belief that if car manufacturers included a vivid and entertaining dashboard in the car, then it must be safe. The same is true of hands free technology. However, both contribute to distracted driving. 
  • For nearly 27 seconds after the use of a hands free device, the driver remains distracted as they struggle to resume focus on driving. 
  • Over 77 million Americans report using a voice activated system in their cars at least monthly while over 114 million have tried such systems while driving. 

Distracted driving comes in many forms and many are so common and innocuous that even experienced drivers do not realize that they are being distracted. 

The Legal and Societal Costs of Distracted Driving

Injuries and fatalities are only one measure of the full cost of distracted driving. As states step up measures to reduce distracted driving, the legal and financial costs begin to mount. 

  • It is estimated that distracted driving costs society over $40 billion dollars every year. 
  • DUIs as a separate category cost nearly $44 billion dollars every single year. 
  • In many states, drivers can receive a fine of up to $500 dollars for each incident of distracted driving. 
  • Meanwhile, drivers can receive a fine of $1,500 or more for their first DUI. 
  • As of the date of this article, only 47 states have laws directly addressing distracted driving. There are 16 states with a current ban specifically on driving while texting . 
  • Insurance penalties for distracted driving range from $87 dollars to $762 dollars in various states. 
  • The state of New York has the most lenient policy as it only implements a 5% increase in insurance rates for distracted driving. Meanwhile, Vermont comes in at the highest with a 56% premium increase for an incident of distracted driving. 

The comprehensive statistics on distracted driving tell a harrowing story on just how big this problem has become in the United States of America alone. Given that there is no fool proof way to test for distracted driving after an accident occurs, it is generally believed that the actual statistics are much higher. Parents need to step up to the plate to protect their families from the dangers of distracted driving by modeling safe behavior for all. The statistics tell us that their teenage drivers stand to suffer the most, but the dangers are present of all of society. 

Number of road traffic-related injuries and fatalities in the U.S

In order to understand the full scope and impact of distracted driving, it would do well to dive deeper into the driving statistics as a whole. In the above graph, one can see the full impact of both injuries and fatalities in the United States from 1990 to 2017. The remarkably high number of fatalities demonstrates just how lethal a traffic accident can be when cars are travelling at such high speeds. Whereas the nation saw a decline from 1999 to 2011, as the total number of U.S. drivers rises so do the accidents.

Source: NHSTA

Number of U.S. adults using in-car voice assistants, by frequency

In order to reduce distracted driving, the auto industry has embraced the use of in-car voice assistants. The intent was to keep the driver’s hands on the wheel and stop them from reaching for the phone. However, the data tells us that in-car voice assistants still pose a distraction for drivers. In 2018 alone, over 70 million drivers report using the system at least monthly. Over 110 million drivers report at least trying the system.

Source: VoiceBot

Road fatalities per 1,000,000 inhabitants in selected countries

The United States ranks 4th in the world for fatalities resulting from traffic accidents. Remarkably, the United States ranks higher than India despite India having over twice the population. Driving in America has become ubiquitous with American culture. In other nations, mass transit and other means of travel is more common. In another fascinating point of data, the tiny nation of Georgia with a population of only 3.7 million has the highest per capita rate of road fatalities.

Source: OECD

Total number of injured persons in motor vehicle crashes in the United States

This graph demonstrates the trend of injured persons over a nearly 20-year span. With advances in auto safety, the nation witnessed a decline that began in the late 1990’s. However, in recent years, the number has continued to climb which demonstrates the problem of distracted driving isn’t going anywhere soon.

Source: NHTSA

Number of traffic-related fatalities in the United States

In this graph that somewhat mirrors the motor vehicle injury graph, we again see the decline and the recent increase. As smart phones become more common, it is commonly thought that phone use in recent years has contributed to the increase in fatalities. This is somewhat difficult to assess as there is no foolproof way to prove this was the case after a fatality. Police will pull phone records at times to explore whether phone use was a factor, but this is not always conclusive.


Source: NHTSA

Driving under the influence of alcohol in the United States, by age group

Another alarming fact continues to be the role alcohol plays in the United States. Distracted driving is often referred to as the new drunk driving, but drunk driving itself continues to loom large. The portion of the population at most risk are those between the ages of 21-25. In many young adults, the brain is still developing and the ability to make rational decisions is not fully intact. As adults age, we can see a steady and conclusive decline.



Percentage of young drivers who reported driving under the influence of marijuana in the U.S, by ethnicity

As marijuan become legal in many states, marijuana will continue to play a role in driving under the influence. This graph breaks that trend down by ethnicity. Asian-Americans report the lowest rate of driving while under the effects of marijuana. Meanwhile, non-hispanic mult-cultural young adults report the highest rate. On average, the difference between many races is nominal. On average, over 4% of young adults report driving under the influence of marijuana.

Source: CDC

Driving under the influence of alcohol in the U.S.

This graph represents the total number of U.S. drivers who report driving under the influence of alcohol in the United States from 2002 to 2015. On a positive note, the nation has witnessed a steady decline from 2002 to 2015. This is perhaps due in large part to increased efforts to bring awareness to the dangers of driving under the influence as well as the rise of ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. For a very low price, one can simply click an app and schedule a safe ride home. With DUIs resulting in countless fatalities among non-drunk drivers, there is little tolerance for those who forgo and easy and cheap solution while putting the lives of others at risk.


U.S. smartphone activities while driving

Taking a quick step back to distracted driving, this graph demonstrates the activities with smartphone that often lead to distracted driving. By far, texting represents the largest danger as many report that they feel they can safely navigate at text and driving. However, the data tells us that this is a false belief. Email comes in a distant second place while an alarming number report actually watching or taking a video while driving.


Source: Statista Report

Worst types of car drivers according to drivers in the U.S.

A survey among drivers in the United States report that drivers who text are the absolute worst drivers on the road. Showing that Americans have little tolerance for the dangerous habit, text ranks twice as high as the much maligned tailgate driver. The frustrating and yet frequent left lane hog comes in third place. Most of the types of drivers represent a frustration among drivers, but texting drivers represent a threat to drivers.

Source: Expedia

Total number of licensed drivers in the U.S, by state

A survey among drivers in the United States report that drivers who text are the absolute worst drivers on the road. Showing that Americans have little tolerance for the dangerous habit, text ranks twice as high as the much maligned tailgate driver. The frustrating and yet frequent left lane hog comes in third place. Most of the types of drivers represent a frustration among drivers, but texting drivers represent a threat to drivers.

Source: Federal Highway Administration