Distracted driving continues to be a danger for both the driver and others on the road, including pedestrians. Any form of distracted driving can be potentially fatal, and studies show texting while driving is a major concern. Additionally, the increasing use of smartphones to check email and social sharing smartphone apps only adds to the risk of a driver being distracted. No wonder the National Conference of State Legislatures reported that 273 distracted driving bills, mostly centered on cell phone use and texting, were considered in 2010 across 43 states.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines “driver distraction” as a type of inattention occurring when a driver’s attention is diverted away from the driving task to focus on another activity instead. Distraction types include visual, auditory, manual, and cognitive, and most common distractions often involve more than one type. For example, cell phone use includes both an auditory and cognitive distraction, while texting can be a visual, manual, and auditory distraction.

A recent study by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) showed two-thirds of drivers reported using a cell phone while driving in the past year and one-eighth reported texting while driving in the same period. Unfortunately, both these activities can interfere with safe driving, and distracted driving has been cited in an estimated 20% of injury crashes and 16% of fatal crashes in 2009, translating to nearly 5,500 distracted driving-related deaths. Additionally, in a Pew Research Center survey, 49% of adults admitted to being passengers in the car when the driver was texting and 44% said they were passengers in the car when the driver used the cell phone in way that posed a danger.

With mounting research on the risks of cell phone use and texting while driving, states and even local governments have enacted laws to reduce both types of behavior. As of JanuaryMap of texting bans 2012, 9 states plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands will have banned all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving and 34 states plus the District of Columbia and Guam will have banned drivers from text messaging. Laws for novice drivers are even more stringent, with 30 states plus the District of Columbia banning novice drivers from using cell phones and 41 states plus the District of Columbia banning novice drivers from texting while driving. It is likely more states will adopt some form of legislation targeting drivers’ cell phone use and/or texting in the future. Americans, when polled, are usually strongly in favor of laws curbing using cell phones while driving.

Distracted driving is easily avoidable. The GHSA recommends advanced preparations prior to operating a vehicle, including reviewing maps and travel routes, making sure all passengers are secure, knowing anti-texting laws and other distracted driving legislation, and using technologies to avoid focusing on your cell phone while in transit. Additionally, states are implementing distracted driving communication programs and some companies have created cell phone usage policies for employees. The auto industry has also introduced vehicle technologies that can warn drivers of risky situations. Still, successfully decreasing the number of accidents related to distracted driving depends much on changing driver behavior.


* National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (September 2010). Distracted Driving 2009. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811379.pdf

** Governors Highway Safety Association. (July 2011). Distracted Driving: What Research Shows and What States Can Do. http://www.statehighwaysafety.org/html/publications/pdf/sfdist11.pdf

*** National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (September 2010). Driver Electronic Device Use in 2009. http://www.nsc.org/safety_road/Distracted_Driving/Documents/NHTSA_Driver_Electronic_Device_Use_2009.pdf