Dangers of Distracted Driving: Definition, Stats, and Risks for Teens

Over 58 Percent of Teen Crashes Are Caused by Driver Distraction

Talk to your teen about Distracted driving definitions and stats
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Distracted driving is driving while doing any activity that distracts you from the role of operating your car and paying attention to road conditions, traffic signs, traffic, or focusing on the act of driving your car. In fact, more than 58 percent of car crashes involving teenagers are due to distracted driving.

The Latest Data on Distracted Driving Is In

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, nine people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in the United States each day.

A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety tracked distracted driving among young drivers from 16 to 19 years old for six years, and the data will surprise you. While the term distracted driving gained popularity in the past 15 years for talking and texting on cellphones, it would appear that the top reason for distracted driving for teens is not due to mobile use, rather it is from distractions from the passengers according to this ​70 page report, outlining the surprising data and very real statistics on distracted driving.

What Can You Do About Distracted Driving?

First, it is important to understand the true meaning of distracted driving, we've defined it below. Then you need to understand what causes distracted driving, what the auto industry and the insurance industry are doing about it, but most importantly how you can talk to your teen about distracted driving to put an end to it.

What Is Distracted Driving? The Definition

Definition of distracted driving: Distracted driving is when a driver participates in an activity not related to the actual operation of the vehicle while driving a car and the activity has the potential of shifting the driver's focus from their primary objective, which is to safely operate their vehicle while focusing on the road and traffic conditions. Distracted driving includes operating mobile devices while driving as well as other equally distracting situations or activities. Distracted driving activities increase the risk of having accidents and in a study, it is evident that distracted driving is a serious problem among teen drivers. 

Causes of Distracted Driving

  • Texting
  • Talking on a cellphone
  • Using a mobile device to access the internet while driving and surfing the web
  • Watching videos or movies or using entertainment devices
  • Using social media or taking selfies or streaming live video
  • Grooming (combing hair, putting on makeup)
  • Eating 
  • Partying in a car, having rowdy passengers or driving under emotional duress, and even dancing
  • Reading, whether it's a newspaper or textbook, visually reading directions or instructions, or email

Facts on Distracted Driving

The top reason, at 15 percent, of all teen distracted driver accidents was due to passengers. The second highest reason among teen distracted driving accident statistics in the 70-page report from the AAA Foundation was at 12 percent for texting. knowing these statistics really help understand the distracted driving problem. 

Statistic on Distracted Driving: Did you know that in 2016 (the most recent stats) there were 3,450 killed in distracted driving crashes?

What Are the Costs of Distracted Driving?

Even if you do not have an accident yourself, distracted driving can have serious implications on your car insurance rates. The consequences of distracted driving have implications on all fronts, from your car insurance costs to ultimately the safety of your family and the people in our communities. 

Texting on a cellphone while driving has received the most attention as a teen driving distraction, but teen drivers need to realize there are many things in our world today that cause even the best teen drivers to become distracted.

Our busy lives keep us thinking of other things on the way home; our GPS and media players take our eyes off the road; and eating on the run takes our hands off the wheel. All of these things will cause teens driving to become distracted and can increase the risk of an accident substantially.

Is Distracted Driving a Problem with Teen Driving?

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), 10 percent of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the accident.

Facts on Teen Drivers and Distracted Driving

Teens have the highest rate of crashes of any age group in the United States. By building safe driving habits from the onset, not only can the crashes caused by distracted driving be eliminated for teens, but in the long term for the population at large as teens get older. When we look at the statistics, teen distracted driving incidents, although alarmingly high, are significantly less than the number of the incidents of people in their twenties. This could indicate that if teens do not practice safe driving habits, as they gain more driving experience and more confidence, they may be may be more likely to get involved in distracted driving at higher frequencies. The NHTSA data shows that incidents increase into the 20s. 

60 percent of teen car accidents are caused by distracted driving according to the study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, that surveyed teenagers over six years.

What is interesting about the AAA Foundation study is that data was collected over video through a program called Lytx DriveCam system. The system provided the drivers and their family with weekly feedback. So even under the supervision of a driver cam, incidents still happened and at an alarming rate.

Will Distracted Driving Accidents Affect My Insurance Rate?

If the statistics above are not enough to convince you that this is a serious problem, consider who pays the costs of all these injuries, property damages, and deaths. Besides the horrific losses to family members and people directly impacted in the accidents caused by distracted driving related accidents, the financial losses involved are significant. Consider who pays the claims and financial compensation for these losses: the general public and the insurance companies.

How Many Accidents Are Caused by Distracted Driving?

No one wins with distracted driving. Here are some facts from the NHTSA:

9 percent of fatal crashes and 15 percent of injury crashes due to distracted driving, and an
8 percent increase in all distracted driving fatalities since 2016, according to the NHTSA.

3 Ways Distracted Driving Increases Your Car Insurance Rates

1. If you receive traffic violations or break the law due to driving distracted

If you get tickets or traffic violations, you may lose your conviction-free discount and this will affect your driving record in the long run. This is very much like a speeding ticket or passing a school bus when the signals are on for everyone to stop. Although laws and insurance regulations vary from state to state, these could be serious violations. You can contact your state insurance commissioner to find out what the exact implications are in your state.

Here's an example how much insurance could go up following one distracted driving ticket. According to Insurance Hotline, a ticket for "prohibited use of a handheld" could increase your premium for your car insurance over 18 percent, if based on an "average lowest car insurance rate" this could mean over $200 on a premium of $1,238.

2. If you have an accident due to distracted driving, or if a distracted driver hits you

Being involved in an accident will impact your driving record and claims history. This is a sure way to make your insurance policy premium go up. In addition, it will damage your vehicle so even if the insurance covers repairs, your vehicle will have a diminished value. For newer vehicles, the loss on diminished value could be thousands of dollars.

3. As distracted driving accidents increase, you can expect resulting increases in general insurance rates.

Distracted driving is a fairly new problem, but one that is extremely serious. Even if your own insurance company has not adjusted rates for these types of losses yet, you can bet that the insurance industry is looking at this as laws to make distracted driving illegal are on the rise. Your insurance will eventually, if not now, take this into consideration.

This is just how insurance works: As claims frequencies rise due to distracted driving claims, insurance companies may respond by increasing car insurance rates and creating new underwriting rules to compensate for the additional losses paid. This is a national problem. Distracted driving is a national safety and financial problem we all need to gain control of.

How Can I Help My Teen Avoid Distracted Driving?

You can avoid distracted driving in your household by educating your family on the stats. Distracted driving is not just about texting and driving. In fact, statistics show that more people are using the internet while driving than texting. It would seem all those advertising campaigns about not texting and driving are starting to drive the message home, yet for some reason, people are busy on the internet. 

Statistic from the CDC: "In 2016, 2,433 teens in the United States ages 16–19 were killed and 292,742 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes."

Car Manufacturers and Distracted Driving: Making Driving Safer for Teens and Everyone

Choosing a car that helps prevent distracted driving may not completely solve the distracted driving problem, but could help make a difference. Automobile manufacturers are developing a variety of technologies in newer cars to help prevent people from being tempted to use their mobile devices while driving. Purchasing cars that have hands-free built in, or that can read out texts or GPS instructions will help prevent distracted driving temptations. Ford's Sync can send texts and read messages and allows parents to block incoming calls and texts while their teenagers drive with the MyKey program. GM is developing sensors that will hopefully detect when a driver's eyes or head are shifting away from where it should be (facing the road) while driving. Once developed, this eye and head tracking technology could make a significant difference in the fight against distracted driving for people who own these technologically enhanced vehicles. These are amazing examples of how car companies are playing their part in helping parents protect teens from distracted driving, as well as the general population.

Insurance Company Telematics or Usage Based Insurance and Distracted Driving

Although telematics devices can not report on how distracted you are while driving or if you are using a cellphone, it can collect data about how you are driving. For example, it could see how many times you slam to a stop, or make drastic turns or maneuvers. Having access to this kind of information about how your teen drivers could help you detect potential problems and avoid distracted driving and other dangerous driving habits like speeding. Talk to your insurance company or broker and ask them if a telematics device is available to you. The best part is that safe drivers will usually benefit from a discount, this can be especially appealing for teens who have high insurance rates already. Getting Usage Based Insurance for your teen driver could also lower your insurance rates.

How to Talk to Your Teenager About Distracted Driving

There are a number of additional resources to help you talk to your teen about the dangers of distracted driving and there are also strategies to help you get your teenage driver to drive more safely and avoid distraction, learn how to create good driving habits as well as some resources to help you correct distracted driving problems or when you need to teach your teenager to drive safely.

The 3 Best Ways to Teach Your Teen How to Drive Safer and Avoid Distracted Driving

After you have reviewed all the things that cause distracted driving including phone, texting, eating, radio, GPS, there is a lot more parents need to do to help their teenagers stop distracted driving. 

The key to getting a teenager to change a habit or do something differently, like driving safely, is to involve them in the process and help your teen understand. Your teenager is pretty smart, here's how to help them be safe driver and not drive when distracted: 

  • Talk about the challenges of driving when you need to get other things done and come up with strategies to avoid them. Use examples of how distracted driving is a challenge for you too. Make it a family problem to solve, not just your teenager's problem. Everyone is tempted to drive distracted. Stopping distracted driving is about finding solutions for yourself, just in the same way car manufacturers and insurance companies are also trying to develop tools to help.
When a family gets together and has a genuine conversation, it can make a huge difference
  • Talk about the value of pulling over to a safe spot and checking that urgent text, or email, or taking that selfie when the car is stopped and not running. Discuss what to do if you feel like there is no way you can avoid a source of distraction. We all have those moments where we feel like we have to do something, we need to decide when those moments are and what to do about them. 
Don't use distracted driving as the topic of a lecture for your teenager, use it as an opportunity to problem solve and share ideas.
  • Outline consequences, moral and financial. Most importantly we need to put in perspective for teenagers what the cost of distracted driving moments are to ourselves and others. If your teenager understands that these actions put their life in danger, or may be the cause of an accident where they become the cause of an accident that takes another person's life, they will think twice before driving distracted. The statistics on the previous page can help you. Let them know that besides consequences of an accident, there are financial consequences to their actions, and let them know they will be held responsible for any financial loss or costs caused by their distracted driving. 

Examples of Improving Safety and Avoiding Distracted Driving for Teens

  • If your teen driver needs to use a GPS to find their way safely to a location, get them into the habit of looking up the directions before they get into the car so they don't worry about looking at the GPS constantly. Teach them how to turn on the text to talk feature on the phone or car. If you do not have a program that will read the instructions on a speaker, take some time together to find an app that can do this and make sure they know how to use it.
  • Talk to your teen about messaging friends before they leave the house to let them know they will be out of touch while they are driving. This way they won't be tempted to message back and forth. They should also close apps that will tempt them to use them while driving. Avoiding distracted driving involves a conscious effort.
  • Talk to your teenager about the positives. Let them know that if they are good drivers they may even get discounts or insurance, or other rewards.This is something teenagers can be proud of. Consider focusing on this.

Resources to Help Stop Distracted Driving for Teenagers

There is a lot of information on distracted driving that can help you, here are some examples:

Defensive Driving Courses May Help Distracted Driving and Reduce Insurance Rates

Consider enrolling your teen in defensive driving courses. These courses teach a lot of strong driving safety techniques but are also fun. They will teach good driving habits, which include the importance of not being distracted. On top of it, you might even get an insurance discount, and it keeps things fun while making your teen an even better and more responsible driver. With distracted drivers on the road, these defensive driving techniques will also help them avoid being hurt by distracted driving.