Distracted driving statistics

Distracted drivers kill over 3,000 people per year, and insurance companies are serious about keeping you from doing it.

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Carrie Pallardy

By 

Carrie Pallardy

Carrie Pallardy

Contributing Reporter

Carrie Pallardy is a contributing reporter at Policygenius, where she covers insurance and personal finance news. Her work has also appeared in the Chicago Tribune and Saving For College.

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Logan Sachon

Logan Sachon

Senior Managing Editor, Research

Logan Sachon is the senior managing editor of research at Policygenius, where she oversees our insurance and financial data studies and surveys. Previously, she co-founded The Billfold, a groundbreaking personal finance site for millennials named one of TIME's 25 best blogs of the year.

Published April 27, 2022 | 2 min read

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In 2019, distracted drivers killed 3,142 people. It's a horrible number, and totally preventable. When you're driving a car, you have one job: paying attention to the road and ensuring that you, your passengers, and all your fellow humans get home safely instead of dying in a senseless crash because you were distracted.

What is distracted driving?

Driving requires your full attention on the road, and anything less is dangerous and a crash risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists three main types of distracted driving: [1]

  • Cognitive: If you aren’t focusing your mind on driving, you are experiencing cognitive distraction and are risking a distracted driving crash. Daydreaming, spacing out, talking on the phone, recording a podcast— these count.

  • Manual: Manually distracted drivers take their hands off the wheel to reach for something. Messing with the controls, grabbing your coffee, reaching for your phone in the passenger seat.

  • Visual: Looking somewhere other than at the road is a visual distraction. Cell phone use is the big one here.

What causes distracted driving?

Phone use is a leading cause of distracted driving, but phones aren’t the only culprits.

7.9%: Approximate percent of drivers were using a cell phone, either handheld or hands-free, at a typical moment during the day in 2020. [2]

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) lists several additional common causes of distracted driving: [3]

  • Reaching for a moving object

  • Insect inside the car

  • Looking at something outside of the car

  • Reading

  • Putting on makeup

  • Dialing a phone

  • Eating

  • Adjusting the radio

  • Passengers in the adjacent or rear seat

Who causes the most distracted driving fatalities?

Anyone can take their eyes and minds off the roads, but some age groups cause more fatal distraction affected crashes than others.

Distracted drivers involved in a fatal crash by age group

Age groupPercentage of all drivers involved in fatal crashesPercentage of all distracted drivers involved in fatal crashesPercentage of all drivers involved in fatal crashes in this age group who were distracted
15-208%11%9%
21-249%10%6%
25-3421%23%7%
35-4416%18%6%
45-5415%13%5%
55-6414%10%4%
65-749%7%5%
75+6%6%6%

Table data: NHTSA [4]

Distracted teen drivers

Teens are notorious for driving while distracted, and unfortunately they are often involved in distracted driving accidents.

9%: Share of teen drivers olds who were distracted at the time they involved in fatal crashes, the highest of any age group. [5]

11%: Share of all distracted drivers of fatal crashes who were 15-20 years old. [6]

8%: Share of all drivers of fatal crashes who were 15-20 years old. [7]

17%: Share of all teen drivers involved in a fatal car crash who were using a cell phone. [8]

39% of high school students have reported texting or emailing while driving. [9]

  • In 2019, 15% of all motor vehicle crashes reported to the police involved a distracted driver. [10]

  • In 2019, 3,142 people died in accidents that involved at least one distracted driver. [11]

  • Distracted driving can also be deadly for pedestrians, cyclists, and other people who aren’t in a car. In 2019, distracted driving crashes resulted in the deaths of 566 bystanders. [12]

Laws against distracted driving

Just like states have laws against drunk driving in order save lives, most states have distracted driving laws: [13]

  • All states except Texas and Missouri have laws that prohibit texting and driving.

  • A total of 24 states and Washington, D.C. have laws against handheld cell phone use while driving.

  • Novice drivers are not allowed any form of cell phone use in 37 states and Washington, D.C.

Distracted driving and car insurance

Car insurance premiums have risen 16% since 2011, a rate that correlates with the increase in distracted driving accidents. [14]

Your driving history plays a big role in determining your car insurance premiums. If you receive a ticket related to distracted driving, you can expect to see your auto insurance rate go up. Read more about texting and driving laws and how breaking them could affect your insurance.