Most people recognize the extreme risks of driving drunk. A relatively new hazard, however, is just as dangerous – distracted driving. Distracted driving refers to texting while driving, as well as anything that removes a driver’s attention from the driving task.
From 2012 to 2018, approximately 23,000 people died in accidents involving distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Understanding the dangers of distracted driving can motivate drivers to pay attention to the road – especially when they realize it is just as dangerous as driving drunk.
Is Texting While Driving as Bad as Drunk Driving?
Drunk driving is a reckless driver behavior that is criminalized in all 50 states. Driving under the influence of alcohol can result in criminal charges, thousands of dollars in fines and time spent in jail.
Distracted driving, on the other hand, is only a moving violation in most states – and often a secondary enforcement offense – punishable with just a small fine. Yet studies show that texting while driving is the new drunk driving, as both affect the driving ability in similar ways.
· Inattention behind the wheel
· Inability to notice changing roadway situations
· Reduced reaction times
· Impaired judgment
· Mental distractions
· Inability to concentrate
· Lack of vehicle control
Both infractions have similar signs and red flags, as well – speeding, abrupt braking, red-light running, failing to yield the right-of-way and tailgating, for example. Texting while driving is so dangerous, in fact, that the NHTSA found it to be six times deadlier than driving drunk.
Unfortunately, many drivers underestimate the dangers of distracted driving – especially teen and young adult drivers. They frequently engage in the most dangerous form of driver distraction of all: texting while driving.
What Is the Most Dangerous Distraction While Driving?
Statistically, texting and driving is the most dangerous type of driver distraction. Looking down at a cellphone screen for just five seconds while traveling 55 miles per hour is the same as driving across a football field with your eyes closed, according to the NHTSA. Texting while driving is so dangerous because it represents all three types of driver distractions at once.
1. Visual distraction: looking at a cellphone screen to read or write a text.
2. Manual distraction: using one or both hands to type out a text message.
3. Cognitive distraction: using the brain to read, interpret or craft a text.
For many years, state lawmakers failed to recognize and spread awareness about the risks of texting while driving. As more and more accidents occurred due to driver distractions, however, all 50 states eventually passed laws banning cellphone use behind the wheel in some form. The most common law prohibits using a handheld electronic device to send messages. Forty-eight states currently ban texting while driving.
What Percent of Highway Deaths Are Related to Drinking and Driving?
Distractions are deadly while driving. Data from the NHTSA shows that 9% of all fatal car accidents in the last seven years involved distracted drivers. Meanwhile, drunk driving accounted for 29% of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities in 2018. Drunk driving took 10,511 lives the same year distracted driving killed 2,841 victims. Still, both errors in judgment by a driver can fatally affect the driving ability.
Historically, lawmakers have taken drunk driving more seriously than distracted driving. This has led to laxer rules and policies against the latter. Yet multiple studies emphasize the extreme risks of distracted driving – especially texting while driving – and stress the need for stricter related laws. Unfortunately, state lawmakers have been slow to penalize distracted driving more harshly.
Improve Your Safety as a Driver – Drive Sober and Focus on the Road
The key takeaway is that it does not matter which is more dangerous for drivers, distracted driving or drunk driving – both are deadly mistakes that take thousands of lives in the US each year. As a driver, do your part to drive responsibly. Take safety into your own hands. Never get behind the wheel if you’ve been drinking alcohol. While driving, always put your phone away and focus 100% of your attention on the driving task. Drive sober and single-mindedly focused on the driving task to keep yourself and others safe.