What You Should Know About: Distracted Driving
Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road – distracted driving has deadly and costly consequences
What you should know:
- Distracted driving crashes claimed 3,522 lives in 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
- Traffic safety experts say drivers are three times more likely to be in a crash when talking on a cell phone, and 23 times more likely to crash when entering information (ie: texting) into a cell phone.
- All distractions are a reason for concern, but cell phone use while driving is the riskiest distraction for drivers.
Distracted driving is defined as any activity that takes the drivers attention off the road, including talking or texting on cellphones, talking with other people in the vehicle and eating and drinking while behind the wheel. The riskiest of distracted driving behavior, however, is using a cell phone while driving. It’s a deadly and costly problem that’s not only leading to increased auto crashes and fatalities but causing insurance rates to go up as well.
While individual companies weigh rating factors differently, loss costs - payments made to treat injuries, repair damaged vehicles and property and defend drivers in legal actions - are typically reflected in premiums paid by consumers.
To deter drivers from distracted driving, many states including Washington, Oregon and Idaho have enacted new distracted driving laws that strengthen penalties and dish out heavy fines for drivers using hand-held devices while behind the wheel – even if the driver is stopped at an intersection or stuck in traffic.
Even with new laws in place, however, distracted driving has become one of the most dangerous hazards on roadways today, and evidence suggests it’s mostly due to increased interaction with smartphones while behind the wheel.
Many organizations and insurance companies support initiatives and laws that aim to break distracted driving habits. For example, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) launched a statewide initiative called Target Zero that aims to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries on Washington’s roadways to zero by the year 2030.
As a driver, you can’t control what others do behind the wheel, but you can prevent yourself from being a danger to others, and you can be more prepared to avoid a collision with a distracted driver or pedestrian. Here are a few important tips:
Distracted Driving Prevention
- Turn off your phone and put it in your glove box while you are driving to avoid the temptation of answering a call or text.
- If you’re a passenger, offer to be the vehicle’s “communications officer,” and hold the driver’s phone.
- Don’t text or call a friend or loved one if you know they are driving.
- Add an “app” to your phone, or add a setting to your phone, to automatically reply to calls or messages telling the person by text that you are driving and will contact them when you are no longer behind the wheel.
- Consider installing an app that can disable texting and hold calls while you’re driving.
- If using a GPS or map feature on your phone, enter the address information before you start the car and use a phone holder mounted in a location easy to see without taking your eyes off the road.
- Talk to family members, especially teen drivers, about the risks of cell phone use. Model responsible behavior by not using your phone while driving.
- If you need to call or text someone while driving, ask a passenger to type the text or make the call. If you don’t have passengers, pull off the road in a safe location before using your phone.
- Remember that eating, drinking, grooming yourself or attending to a child or pet in while driving can be a serious distraction from your driving responsibilities. And in at least one state (WA), if you’re pulled over for another driving infraction, you can also be cited for those non-cell phone distractions and fined an additional $100.
- Ask your teen to sign a parent-teen driving contract or agreement that details the promises, rules and consequences of driving so everyone is on the same page. One example of such a contract is available on the CDC’s website.
Video: Washington's Distracted Driving Law