Every day about 8 people in the United States are killed in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.1
Distracted driving is driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from driving. Distracted driving can increase the chance of a motor vehicle crash.
Anything that takes your attention away from driving can be a distraction. Sending a text message, talking on a cell phone, using a navigation system, and eating while driving are a few examples of distracted driving. Any of these distractions can endanger you, your passengers, and others on the road.
There are three main types of distraction:
- Visual: taking your eyes off the road
- Manual: taking your hands off the wheel
- Cognitive: taking your mind off driving2
- In the U.S. in 2018, over 2,800 people were killed and an estimated 400,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. 1
- About 1 in 5 of the people who died in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2018 were not in vehicles―they were walking, riding their bikes, or otherwise outside a vehicle.1
You can visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrationexternal icon (NHTSA) website for more information on how data on motor vehicle crash deaths are collected and the limitations of distracted driving data.
Young adult and teen drivers
- In the U.S. in 2018:
- Twenty-five percent of the distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes were young adults aged 20–29.1
- Drivers aged 15-19 were more likely to be distracted than drivers aged 20 and older, among drivers in crashes where someone died. Among these drivers, eight percent of drivers aged 15 to 19 were distracted at the time of the crash.1
- Nine percent of all teens who died in motor vehicle crashes were killed in crashes that involved distracted driving.6
- CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) monitors health risk behaviors among U.S. high school students, including texting or emailing while driving.7 A study analyzing data from the 2019 survey revealed the following:
- In 2019, 39% of high school students who drove in the past 30 days texted or emailed while driving on at least one of those days.8
- Texting or emailing while driving was more common among older students than younger students (see figure below) and more common among white students (44%) than black (30%) or Hispanic students (35%).8
- Texting or emailing while driving was as common among students whose grades were mostly As or Bs as among students with mostly Cs, Ds, or Fs. 8
- Students who texted or emailed while driving were also more likely to report other transportation risk behaviors. They were:
- more likely to not always wear a seat belt;
- more likely to ride with a driver who had been drinking alcohol;
- and more likely to drive after drinking alcohol. 8
NHTSA. Traffic Safety Facts Research Note: Distracted Driving 2018 (DOT HS 812 926). Available at https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812926external icon
Sourceexternal icon: Transportation Risk Behaviors Among High School Students — Youth Risk Behavior Survey, United States, 2019
What drivers can do
- Do not multitask while driving. Whether it’s adjusting your mirrors, picking the music, eating a sandwich, making a phone call, or reading an email―do it before or after your trip, not during.
- You can use appsexternal icon to help you avoid cell phone use while driving. Consider trying an app to reduce distractions while driving.
What passengers can do
- Speak up if you are a passenger in a car with a distracted driver. Ask the driver to focus on driving.
- Reduce distractions for the driver by assisting with navigation or other tasks.
What parents can do9
- Talk to your teen or young adult about the rules and responsibilities involved in driving. Share stories and statistics related to teen/young adult drivers and distracted driving.
- Remind them driving is a skill that requires the driver’s full attention.
- Emphasize that texts and phone calls can wait until arriving at a destination.
- Familiarize yourself with your state’s graduated driver licensing systemexternal icon and enforce its guidelines for your teen.
- Know your state’s laws on distracted drivingexternal icon. Many states have novice driver provisions in their distracted driving laws. Talk with your teen about the consequences of distracted driving and make yourself and your teen aware of your state’s penalties for talking or texting while driving.
- Set consequences for distracted driving. Fill out CDC’s Parent-Teen Driving Agreementpdf icon together to begin a safe driving discussion and set your family’s rules of the road. Your family’s rules of the road can be stricter than your state’s law. You can also use these simple and effective ways to get involved with your teen’s driving: Parents Are the Key.
- Set an example by keeping your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel while driving.
- Learn more: visit NHTSA’s website on safe teen drivingexternal icon.
- Many states have enacted laws to help prevent distracted driving. These include banning texting while driving, implementing hands-free laws, and limiting the number of young passengers who can ride with teen drivers.
- While the effectiveness of cell phone and texting laws requires further study, high-visibility enforcement (HVE) efforts for distracted driving laws can be effective in reducing cell phone use while driving. From 2010 to 2013, NHTSA evaluated distracted driving HVE demonstration projects in four communities. These projects increased police enforcement of distracted driving laws and increased awareness of distracted driving using radio advertisements, news stories, and similar media. After the projects were complete, observed driver cell phone use fell from:
- 4.1% to 2.7% in the Sacramento Valley Region in California,10
- 6.8% to 2.9% in Hartford, Connecticut,11
- 4.5% to 3.0% in the state of Delaware,10 and
- 3.7% to 2.5% in Syracuse, New York.11
- Graduated driver licensing (GDL) is a system which helps new drivers gain experience under low-risk conditions by granting driving privileges in stages. Comprehensive GDL systems include five components, one of which addresses distracted driving: the young passenger restriction.12 CDC’s GDL Planning Guide can assist states in assessing, developing, and implementing actionable plans to strengthen their GDL systems.
- Some states have installed rumble strips on highways to alert drowsy, distracted, or otherwise inattentive drivers that they are about to go off the road. These rumble strips are effective at reducing certain types of crashes. 13
- Several federal regulations target distractions for workers:
- In 2009, President Obama issued an Executive Orderexternal icon prohibiting federal employees from texting while driving government-owned vehicles, or when driving privately owned vehicles on official government business.
- In 2010, the Federal Railroad Administrationexternal icon banned cell phone and electronic device use for railroad operating employees on the job.
- In 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrationexternal icon banned commercial vehicle drivers from texting while driving.
- In 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administrationexternal icon banned all hand-held cell phone use by commercial drivers and drivers carrying hazardous materials.
- NHTSA has several campaignsexternal icon to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving, including their annual “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” campaign, which began in April 2014.
- NHTSA has issued voluntary guidelines to promote safety by discouraging the introduction of both original, in-vehiclepdf iconexternal icon and portable/aftermarketpdf iconexternal icon electronic devices in vehicles.
- CDC has developed the Parents Are the Key campaign, which helps parents, pediatricians, and communities help keep teen drivers safe on the road.
This fact sheet provides an overview of distracted driving and promising strategies that are being used to address distracted driving.
- CDC MMWR— Transportation Risk Behaviors Among High School Students — Youth Risk Behavior Survey, United States, 2019
- CDC MMWR – Mobile Device Use While Driving — United States and Seven European Countries, 2011
- NHTSA – Distracted Drivingexternal icon
- Governors Highway Safety Association – Distracted Drivingexternal icon
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety – Distracted Drivingexternal icon
- World Health Organization – Mobile Phone Use: A Growing Problem of Driver Distractionexternal icon
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) – Distracted Driving at Work
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – Campaign Materialsexternal icon
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (April 2020) Traffic Safety Facts Research Note: Distracted Driving 2018external icon. Department of Transportation, Washington, DC: NHTSA. Accessed 18 August 2020.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Overview of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Driver Distraction Program (DOT HS 811 299).pdf iconexternal icon U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, DC. Accessed 24 August 2020.
- Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A., & Crouch, D. J. (2006). A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driverexternal icon. Human Factors, 48(2), 381-391.
- Vegega, M., Jones, B., & Monk, C. (2013). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Understanding the Effects of Distracted Driving and Developing Strategies to Reduce Resulting Deaths and Injuries: A Report to Congresspdf iconexternal icon. U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Distracted Driving.external icon U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C. Accessed 24 August 2020.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Teen Distracted Driver Data, 2018external icon. Accessed 24 August 2020.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. Accessed 27 August 2020.
- Yellman MA, Bryan L, Sauber-Schatz EK, Brener N. Transportation Risk Behaviors Among High School Students — Youth Risk Behavior Survey, United States, 2019. MMWR Suppl 2020;69(Suppl-1):77–83. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.su6901a9external icon
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Teen Drivingexternal icon. Accessed 27 August 2020.
- Chaudhary, N.K., Connolly, J., Tison, J., Solomon, M., & Elliott, K. (2015). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Evaluation of the NHTSA Distracted Driving High-Visibility Enforcement Demonstration Projects in California and Delawarepdf iconexternal icon. U. S. Department of Transportation, Washington, DC.
- Chaudhary, N.K., Casanova-Powell, T.D., Cosgrove, L., Reagan, I., & Williams, A. (2012). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Evaluation of NHTSA Distracted Driving Demonstration Projects in Connecticut and New Yorkpdf iconexternal icon. U.S Department of Transportation, Washington, DC.
- Richard, C.M., Magee, K., Bacon-Abdelmoteleb, P., & Brown, J. L. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2017). Countermeasures that work: A highway safety countermeasure guide for State highway safety offices, Ninth edition.pdf iconexternal icon U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C.
- Federal Highway Administration. (November 2011) Technical Advisory: Shoulder and Edge Line Rumble Strips (T 5040.39, Revision 1)pdf iconexternal icon. Department of Transportation, Washington, DC: FHWA. Accessed 24 August 2020.