As Cell Phone Use Remains Constant, Distracted Driving Is Increasingly a Factor in Car Crashes

Despite almost universal state laws discouraging the practice, Americans are still refusing to put down their phones while in the car. Cell phone usage, especially text messaging, and distracted driving continue to be contributing factors in car crashes. The need to stay in contact all the time is especially high among young twenty-somethings. In New York State, residents between the age of 21 and 29 make up only 15 percent of the state’s drivers, yet they are involved in 37 percent of crashes involving cell phone use and 24 percent of crashes involving distracted driving.

A total of 46 states (not including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands) have banned texting while driving. An additional two states ban young or new drivers from texting while behind the wheel. Despite the increased regulations, the number of drivers who say they send or receive text messages increased from 48 percent to 52 percent between 2013 and 2016. When asked if texting while driving impairs a driver’s ability – a whopping 96 percent of drivers answered in the affirmative (with 83 percent stating it impaired the driver “a great deal.”) According to The Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research, texting is increasingly the cause of car crashes attributed to cell phone use, in 2015 texting accounted for 29 percent of those crashes, an increase from 14 percent in 2011.

In addition to sending and receiving text messages, talking on the cell phone has also remained fairly constant despite state bans. A full 58 percent of drivers surveyed in 2016 admitting to talking on the phone while driving, down slightly from 2013 when 63 percent admitted the same. Thankfully, cell phone use appears to be a relatively minor factor in crashes. In a meta-analysis of police reports in New York State, reports that identified “cell phone use” as a contributing factor in crashes ranged from 0.1 percent (in 2011) to 0.4 percent (2015.) In all, only 12 fatal crashes in New York State were caused by cell phone between 2011 and 2015.

In contrast, distracted driving was a contributing factor in 21 percent of crashes in New York during the first half of the decade. Distracted driving is not a precise term, and can encompass anything from grabbing something out of the backseat to watching a movie on a cell phone. In total, 160 people were killed and more than 33,000 car crashes were attributed to distracted driving.


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