The Growing Danger of Distracted Driving

Distracted driving does not cause the most highway accidents, but more motorists are on their phones than ever before.

While the latest data shows that the number of U.S. distracted driving fatalities dropped slightly in 2016, more drivers than ever before admit to using their smartphones while driving. Even a percentage of commercial truck drivers—typically among the safest drivers on the road—will check their phones, make calls or text while driving their 80,000-pound rigs.

Because April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, we wanted to share some statistics that show how driving while on the phone remains a big safety concern on U.S. roadways.

A Leading Cause of Highway Deaths

More than 3,000 people die yearly in distracted driving crashes. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 3,450 distraction-related deaths in 2016, down 2.2% from the previous year. The top three causes of driving deaths remain drunk driving, speeding and unbuckled drivers or passengers.

More Phones, More Distractions

The number of motorists who admit to using phones while driving continues to rise. In a recent survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 60.5% of drivers said they recently talked on a hands-free smartphone while driving, while 49.1% said they talked on a hand-held phone. The same study found that 44.9% of drivers read texts while driving and 34.6% will type or send a text while driving.

Truckers Are Not Immune

Truck drivers are 29% less likely to be involved in a crash than drivers of other vehicles. However, analysis by technology company SmartDrive Systems found that 25% of truckers are likely to engage in unsafe driving behavior. Using data collected from 180 million driving events, SmartDrive found that truck drivers who have been in at least one collision are 94% more likely to be distracted by a hand-held mobile phone.

Any Phone Can Distract

Most drivers believe hands-free phone technology is safer than using a hand-held device. However, a study by the National Safety Council found that drivers who use any kind of phone technology are about 50% less aware of their driving environment.

Stiff Penalties

Regulators have been cracking down on distracted truck drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has enacted penalties that include a maximum $14,739 fine for carriers—and $3,685 for drivers—for using phones while driving.

Sources: National Safety Council, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Transport Topics, SmartDrive Systems, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, U.S. Department of Transportation