Texting and Driving by the Numbers
Distracted driving has become more of a traffic hazard than drunk driving in the last decade, and the biggest offender is texting while driving. According to the National Safety Council, tracking the dangers of texting and driving is difficult because the statistics are simply not kept as well as statistics for other forms of impaired driving. While states are keeping track of distracted driving accidents, it’s not uncommon for a distracted driving accident report to fail to mention texting while driving. At this point, we can only take an educated guess on how bad the problem is, but the data we do have make it clear that paying attention to your phone while you’re driving is a bad idea.
How Bad is the Problem?
In 2011, it was revealed that 23 percent of all distracted driving accidents involved the use of cellphones. That amounted to 1.3 million collisions of all sorts and sizes, and includes fender benders without personal injuries. In 2014, nearly 3,200 people were killed in accidents caused by distracted driving while 431,000 were injured. Most of those accidents involved the use of cellphones, but we can dig even deeper to see how bad the texting problem has gotten over the years.
In 2013, 1.7 percent of all drivers on the road were observed using a cellphone in some way by other drivers on the road. That number rose sharply in 2014 to 2.2 percent, which represents hundreds of thousands of drivers using their cellphones while driving. For an even clearer picture of the problem we’re facing these days, it’s estimated that 660,000 drivers on the roads of the United States are using their cellphones while driving at any given moment during daylight hours. That number drops when the sun goes down, but so do the number of drivers.
The problem will only grow as more cellphones are activated around the country and a younger generation – known for excessive mobile phone use already – starts driving. In 2011, 52 percent of drivers owned smartphones. But by the time 2014 got underway, that number had grown to a staggering 80 percent. Drivers in their twenties account for 23 percent of all fatal crashes, and that number will only grow as a younger generation continues depend on technology for everyday living.
Pinpointing the Real Damage
Texting isn’t the only problem facing drivers today. There’s a broad problem of too little focus being given to driving itself. Eating and drinking, talking to passengers, listening to the radio and even getting dressed are among the ways that drivers put themselves and others at risk. But many of these and other distracted driving activities still allow you to keep your eyes on the road, even if you’re not paying as much attention as you should be. Texting is different.
It takes five seconds for the average person to send a text, and if that person is traveling 55 miles per hour then they will cover the distance of a football field. If you try to walk around in your living room with your eyes closed for five seconds, you can appreciate just how crippling distracted driving can be.
Distracted driving causes property damage and injuries, and it’s also one of the growing ways that people are killed in traffic accidents. While most states do not separate texting while driving from other forms of distracted driving when they keep accident statistics, most states do clarify when a driver was texting and driving when there’s a fatality.
It’s been found that 11 teenagers die behind the wheel every day because of texting and driving. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that teenage drivers are the most likely group to be killed in an accident caused by texting and driving, and teens who text and drive are also more likely to accept drunk driving as safe. Cellphones are giving teens, who are just starting to learn how to make decisions for themselves, the distractions they need to not take driving seriously.
Texting among teens is particularly vulnerable to the emotions that surround a conversation. Around 90 percent of all teens who text and drive expect that their texts will be answered while they are still driving. This means that a teen is feeling the emotional tension that comes with waiting for a response while they are supposed to be focusing on the road. Other emotions that come with text conversations, such as anger, happiness and frustration, also have a negative effect on a teen’s ability to drive.
While the problem may not be exclusive to teen drivers, it does appear to be a uniquely American issue. When drivers aged 18 to 64 were asked by the CDC if they had texted while driving at any point in the previous 30 days, 69 percent of Americans said yes while only 21 percent of British drivers said yes. Teens say that they text while driving because they see adults doing it, which means that this problem is something that affects all age groups, and it’s the responsibility of everyone to help bring it to an end.
The Laws in Your State
There are no federal laws restricting distracted driving, which means all legislation comes from individual states. Each state has its own laws regarding the use of cellphones while driving, ranging from lax to strict in both regulations and punishments for breaking the law.
In just about every state, the use of hands-free talking devices is acceptable while driving. States and territories that ban the use of handheld cellphones include:
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
- West Virginia
- Puerto Rico
- The Virgin Islands
Some of these states and territories have special rules or conditions. For example, North Dakota’s ban is only for drivers who are younger than 18. States such as Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania have left the decision to ban driving while holding a cellphone up to the individual cities and towns.
Texting and driving is treated differently by the states, and it’s considered more of a serious threat than talking on the phone while driving. Every state and territory in the country has banned statewide texting and driving except for Arizona and Montana. Missouri and Texas have bans in place, but they only restrict specific groups of drivers. Unlike bans on handheld phones in many states, statewide texting bans have no exceptions and are blanket laws that cover every driver in every situation.
For the most part, drivers who violate texting bans are fined in every state. Alaska has the toughest texting while driving laws, as your first violation comes with a $10,000 fine and prison time. The most lenient state for texting fines is California, which fines drivers $20 for each texting offense. The median texting fine is $100 throughout the country, with the range going from $20 to $10,000 for first offenses. More than half of the states with texting bans have fines that are $100 or higher for first and repeat offenses.
Texting and driving is rapidly becoming the most common form of distracted driving in the country. More people are getting into accidents because of texting and driving than for driving while intoxicated. Whether you’re driving under the influence or texting, you’re a danger to other drivers on the road and yourself. Put the phone down and keep your eyes on the road. And tell your friends – and kids – to do the same.