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Breaking down the numbers for distracted driving

Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of motor vehicle crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that distracted driving led to 804,928 traffic accidents in 2021, accounting for 13% of all reported accidents that year. These accidents led to the deaths of 644 pedestrians and other people who were not in a vehicle — to say nothing of all the people inside of vehicles who were hurt or killed.

In this blog post, we will look a little more closely at those numbers and what they mean.

What does ‘distracted driving’ mean?

The NHTSA defines distracted driving broadly. The term refers to almost anything that takes a driver’s mind off driving while they are behind the wheel. There are many things that can take a driver’s attention away from the road ahead of them, including eating, talking to passengers, changing radio stations, using a cellphone, and even simply daydreaming.

The NHTSA categorizes distractions into three types:

  • Manual distractions: This type takes your hands away from the steering wheel.
  • Visual distractions: This type takes your eyes away from the road.
  • Cognitive distractions: This type takes your mind away from driving.

The riskiest behaviors involve all three types. For instance, when you pick up a cellphone to text while driving, you are engaging in manual, visual and cognitive distraction: You have taken at least one hand off the wheel, you’re looking at the cellphone instead of at the road, and you’re paying attention to what’s on your phone instead of what you’re supposed to be doing. For this reason, texting while driving is dangerous and is illegal under Texas law.

However, many behaviors can be similarly distracting. For instance, if you are eating while driving, you may be using your hands, taking your eyes off the road and thinking about your food instead of your responsibility to drive safely.

Who are the distracted drivers?

Statistics show that teenage drivers are particularly prone to distraction. The numbers also show that male drivers are much more likely than female drivers to be involved in a fatal distracted driving accident.

But the frightening truth is that all kinds of drivers can be distracted behind the wheel. By some estimates, more than 7.5% of drivers at any given moment are using cellphones on the road.

These figures should remind all of us to be more careful when we’re driving.