The Truth About Distracted Driving

Research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reveals contradiction between the perceived dangers of distracted driving and driver behavior.
distracted driving

With so many drivers on the road – all with something blinking, ringing or chatting nearby – it’s important to be wary of distracted driving. Taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles a driver’s risk of a crash.

Distracted Driving Affects Everyone

3,142 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2020, according to the latest research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Distracted driving involves any activity that can cause a driver to take their eyes, hands or mind off of the road, endangering themselves and others. Sending a text message, talking on a cell phone, using a navigation system and eating while driving are a few examples.

A large majority of respondents surveyed for the Traffic Safety Culture Index, conducted annually by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety to identify driver attitudes and behaviors, perceived reading (95%) and typing (96%) a text/email as very or extremely dangerous. The concern for these distracted driving behaviors is right up there with drowsy and drunk or impaired driving.

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Should There Be Texting/Talking While Driving Bans?

Most states have a law in place that bans motorists from using mobile devices completely or partially while driving, some stricter than others. A majority of drivers agree with these restrictions, with over 80% supporting laws against holding and talking on a cellphone behind the wheel. However, only 46% of drivers surveyed for the Traffic Safety Culture Index support laws against reading, typing, or sending a text or email while driving.

Attitude vs. Behavior

Despite a high number of drivers reporting the perceived danger, risks of arrest and personal/social disapproval of mobile use behind the wheel – and being in favor of distracted driving laws related to handheld devices – many drivers still do not practice what they preach.

About 23% of drivers admitted to driving while typing or sending a text/email at least once in the past month. 37%  reported talking on the phone and 34% admitted to reading a hand-held device while behind the wheel.

distracted driving

Distraction From In-Car Technologies

In a different survey in conjunction with researchers at the University of Utah, AAA evaluated car technology in 40 2017 and 2018 car models. The survey focused on different components of the technology and the amount of time drivers took to complete several tasks. It also focused on the cognitive and mental demands that these technologies required.

The drivers were asked to use voice commands, touch screens and other technologies to call, text and program audio entertainment or navigation while driving.

The research revealed that while built-in car infotainment systems and connected car apps like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can help cut down on distracted driving activities, they can still take the driver’s eyes off the road for a significant amount of time, especially older drivers.

On average, older drivers (ages 55-75) removed their eyes and attention from the road for more than eight seconds longer than younger drivers (ages 21-36) when performing simple tasks like programming navigation or tuning the radio using in-vehicle infotainment technology.

See AAA’s top 10 tips to avoid distracted driving. 

This was post originally published in 2018 and has been updated.

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8 Thoughts on “The Truth About Distracted Driving

  1. I would imagine distracted driving kills more people than drunk or drugged driving possibly even combined. The simple facts is not everybody drinks or does drugs but it looks like people live on their phones. I’ve seen videos of distracted people walking into fountains falling down manholes and tripping into open cellars

  2. Who in their right mind does anything but keep their eyes on the road while driving a ton or two vehicle. I have approximately 1 and a half million miles behind the wheel and am astounded at what I observe too many drivers doing.

  3. I firmly do not use my cell phone at all while driving. If expecting a call, I tell my caller to leave a message, that I DO NOT answer while behind the wheel, and will respond as soon as I can pull to side of road.

    1. Hi William,
      That is good practice for traffic safety. Most smart phones are equipped to silence notifications while driving, auto-sending a message to the caller/texter that the user is driving. Thank you for the feedback and best practice. -MM

  4. What about all the people who drive around with their small dogs on their laps or hanging out the drivers side window in the arms of their owners? In my opinion that is more distracting than most of the other things people do while driving.

    1. Hi Michael,
      Very good point. Pet owners should be mindful of the pet’s safety as well as their own! Thank you for your feedback! -MM

    1. Hi there!
      Yes, eating behind the wheel is definitely a distraction that AAA cautions against. AAA Northeast President and CEO John Galvin wrote about the dangers of distracted driving – including eating behind the wheel – in a recent column.
      You can also find out more about distracted driving at our website, AAA.com/DistractedDriving.
      Thanks for reading!
      -Dana

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