2020 Cell Phone Texting and Driving Accident Statistics

Texting and Driving Statistics

It’s no secret that car accidents are one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Over the past decade, thousands of people have lost their lives in fatal car crashes.

Here are the statistics of car accidents from 2008 to 2017. [1]

We’ve written a separate article on the various causes of car accidents.

In this article, we’re going to dive deep into one of the well-known causes of car accidents: cell phones.

Specifically, we’re going to cover:


So let’s begin….

The BIGGEST lie about cell phone accidents.


Cell Phone Accidents


There is no question that the rise of mobile devices has led to increased risky behavior for drivers on the road.

In 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that 415,693 drivers used cell phones on a typical day [2].

An average American adult sends and receives about 32 messages every day [3]. That’s about 18 billion text messages daily in the US, 541 billion texts every month, and 6.5 trillion texts every year!

This rapid rise in cell phone usage has dramatically increased the risk of individuals being distracted while driving.

Experts estimate that sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. If you’re driving at 55 mph, that would be the same as driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed. That’s incredibly dangerous behavior; not just for the drivers but also for other driving vehicles/pedestrians on the road.

Often, the numbers are quite large when you hear about cell phone accident statistics. In fact, it no longer surprises people when they learn about dramatic cell phone accident statistics such as:


“Nearly 390,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving.”


This number claim to be quoted from the National Safety Council. Because of the supposed source’s legitimacy, many others have cited the statistic.

Unfortunately, it’s not entirely accurate and was, in fact, exaggerated for shock value.

It’s a misquoting of the actual statistic, which is that in 2015, 391,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving all types of distracted driving. 

What is Distracted Driving?


Distracted Driving


Distracted driving is ANY behavior that can divert your attention while driving. This behavior can include:

  • falling asleep
  • looking away while changing the radio station
  • fiddling with the car’s air conditioner controls
  • eating
  • having conversations with other people in the car

…. and of course, using your cell phone.

Here are the most common sources of distracted driving:


Deadly Sources of Distraction on the Road


As you can see, cell phone accidents are not the ONLY source of all those 391,000 distracted driving accidents.


So What are the REAL Cell Phone Accident Statistics?


In 2017 there were approximately 35,000 fatal car crashes. [2]

Of those fatal accidents, 9% were related to Distraction-Affected (D-A). And of those deadly distracted driving accidents, 14% were due to cell phones.

Fatal Crashes Stats

This trend of D-A and cell phone fatal accidents has been consistent for the past several years.

Cell Phone Driving Accidents By Age


Let’s admit it, most “grown-ups” of today would blame teenagers for being the major contributors to car crashes, especially distracted driving-related accidents. However, this does not seem to be the case!

In 2017, approximately 52,000 drivers were involved in fatal crashes, and nearly 3,000 were due to distracted driving [2]. Here is the distribution of the accidents by age group.

Fatal Car Accidents By Age 2017

Here is the distribution of what percentage of these accidents were due to distracted driving:

Drivers Using Cell Phone By Age

As you can see from the above graphs, drivers under the age of 30 accounted for a higher percentage for both distracted accidents and cell phone accidents.


How many people use Cell Phones while driving?


To understand why there are so many cell phone accidents, it’s useful to know how people use their phones while driving.

The National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) identifies three types of driver electronic device use while driving:

  • Holding Phone to Ears
  • Speaking with Visible Headsets
  • Visibly Manipulating Handheld Devices

Below are the percentages of drivers involved in these behaviors. These percentages were based on 415,953 drivers on a typical day in 2017.

It is estimated 5.3% of the drivers were using some type of phone, either handheld or hands-free on a given day. That’s around 22,000 drivers using their cell phones while driving per day!

Manipulation of Handheld Devices by Year

Visible Headset Use By Year
Cellphone Use by Year

It was observed that handheld cell phone use was higher among female drivers than male drivers.

It was also shown that young drivers (between 16-24) were observed to have higher rates of using their phones, both handheld and visibly manipulating them.

While we mentioned earlier that teens are not the majority contributor to distracted driving-related accidents, it appears that the younger generation aged 16 to 24 years old are the ones who are using cell phones while driving more often.

Statistics for Teenage Cell Phone Accidents


Let’s dive a bit deeper into cell phone accidents among teenagers.

In 2017 alone, a total of 2,734 teens aged 13 to 19 years old died in motor vehicle crashes [4].

Teen Motor Vehicle Crash Deaths

The data above includes teenagers who died in accidents where they were either the driver or not. The numbers also include incidents where the tennagers were passengers, pedestrians, motorcyclists, bicyclists, all-terrain vehicle riders, and others.

Motor vehicle crashes are found to be the top cause of death among teenagers in the United States in 2016.

Causes of Death Teenagers 2016


Let’s dig even deeper into these fatal crashes involving distracted driving and cell phone use among teenage drivers.

Teenage Drivers


Thousands of teen drivers were involved in fatal crashes in 2017.

Teen Fatal Crashes


Now, let’s take a look at the number of distracted teenage drivers who were involved in fatal car crashes between 2009 to 2017. [9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17] *2009 & 2010 stats show drivers under 20 years old.

Teen Drivers Fatal Crashes


It appears that the numbers of teenage drivers involved in D-A crashes remained almost constant over the years. One thousand two hundred teens aged 15 to 19 years old were surveyed in the United States [5].

Ninety seven percent of the surveyed teenagers agreed that texting and driving is dangerous. However, many of them continue to do it.

Teenage Drivers

Cell Phone Attitudes And Behavior


A national survey uncovered several interesting results about drivers’ willingness to use their cell phones while driving [6]:

Distracted Driving Behavior

Drivers were asked if they send and read text messages or emails while driving [6]. They found:

  • 1 in 10 respondents (9%) sometimes send SMS and emails while driving
  • 44% of respondents wait for the red light to send a message.
  • 1 in 5 respondents (19%) use voice command to send text messages
  • 14% don’t stop driving while sending text messages
  • 8% would pull over to the side of the road to send a text message

Calling and texting are no longer the only features of cell phones these days. Since there are many smartphone users, some drivers use mobile apps while driving. According to the same survey cited above:

  • 1 in 12 respondents (8%) sometimes use apps while driving
  • Respondents use music apps (41%), Facebook (12%), and search engines (7%)
  • 12% use smartphone apps while driving for music and entertainment
  • 12% use smartphone apps while driving when they’re bored
  • 21% use smartphone apps for navigation, directions, and other information
  • 6 in 10 respondents (56%) believe that there’s nothing wrong with using a smartphone app while driving

Smartphone Apps Usage While Driving

How States Are Preventing Cell Phone Accidents


With accident numbers continuing to rise yearly, is the government doing anything to put a stop to car accidents involving cell phones?

Due to the high risk of cell phone accidents, many states have added laws and penalties to discourage people from driving and using their phones.

Fifteen states have banned drivers from handheld cell phone use while driving [2].

Cell Phone Ban Per State
New York Driving Tickets

New York Cell Phone Usage


Many have the impression that New York is far from laid back and relaxed. Everyone seems to always be in a rush. One would expect that New York has the highest number of car accidents involving cell phones in the United States. But does it?

Between 2011 and 2016, New York State issued over 1.4 million tickets for distracted driving [7].

New York Texting and Cell PHone Tickets
New York Driving Tickets


As you can see the trend of texting and driving fines has been steadily increasing over the past few years. In 2011, texting violations accounted for only 3% of total tickets issued. But in 2016, 44% of the tickets were due to texting and driving.

That’s a 918% increase in tickets for texting and driving!

New York Cell Phone Violations

Fines and Penalties For Texting and Driving


Several states have started enforcing strict penalties for using your cell phone while driving.

Here is an interactive map of all the ticket fees for driving and cell phone usage per state.


Some interesting points:

  • If you’re traveling to Alaska, make sure you don’t touch your cell phone while you’re driving. When caught texting and driving, you will be charged with a misdemeanor, charged up to $10,000 in penalties and a year in prison!
  • Aside from a hefty $750 fine, texting and driving in Utah may also result in up to three months’ jail time.
  • In Iowa, texting and driving penalty only costs $30 but may climb up to $1,000 if you caused a serious accident.
  • In Wisconsin, the first offense for texting and driving starts at $20 but can go as high as $400.
  • There are currently no fines and no laws against distracted driving in Montana.
  • In Missouri, drivers under 21 years old and those with a commercial driver’s license are the only ones affected by the state’s texting and driving law. Fines could reach up to $200 when caught.
  • Texting and driving is not allowed in Texas, only for novice drivers and all drivers passing through a school zone.
  • Arizona does not have an active law yet, but there will be one by 2021 as a result of a serious accident that happened in 2019.


Below is a list of penalties per state that you should be aware of in case you plan to visit and use a cell phone while driving [8].

Texting and Driving Fines By State
X: Fines and penalties do not apply in these states.


Texting and Driving: Accident Prevention Reminders


Any responsible driver knows that there is absolutely no safe way to text and drive.

The easiest and best way to prevent texting and driving accidents is by training yourself to stop looking at your cell phone once you start driving.

  • Switch to silent mode (without vibration) when driving so you won’t be tempted to check your phone.
  • Check all existing notifications before you start driving.

There are also phone apps that can help prevent distracted driving.

  • Drive Safe Mode is explicitly created for teens. However, you can have it installed for people close to you who are known to be frequently distracted while driving. A teen driver’s parent or whoever is the designated person to be notified by the app will be alerted if the driver sends a text message or uses mobile apps while the car they are driving is in motion.
  • TRUCE is an app made for commercial drivers. If you run a business and need to monitor your vehicles without distracting your driver, this app could be useful for you.
  • Are you using an iPhone? Maximize the benefits of using Siri. Instead of lifting your phone to check on messages or call someone, let Siri do the job.
  • No Siri on your phone? If you’re an Android user, you can use Google Assistant instead.
  • Driving Detective automatically turns off notifications when it detects your vehicle is moving. It works great with an Android phone.
  • For iPhones, LifeSaver is a great app to use to turn off notifications when driving.

Then again, you must realize that it is never safe to text and drive. No app, law, or massive penalty can help you if you refuse to resist the temptation of checking out your phone while you’re driving. Think of yourself, your passengers, your loved ones, all other drivers and their passengers, and everyone else who might be affected if you decide to text and drive. The change must come from within you.


What Happened to Distraction.gov?

Distraction.gov was a US government website that provided general information, news and facts on distracted driving. Through the website, visitors could also get involved in activities aimed at discouraging unfocused driving. Because, in this article, we aim to present the statistics on texting and driving in 2019, Distraction.gov would have been an important site for checking the veracity of the information available on different online resources.

However, an attempt to access the site brings back the message “www.distraction.gov’s server IP address could not be found.” Considering the importance of campaigns involving distracted driving, it is surprising that a government department would shutter a resource such as this one. Hence we decided to start by finding out what happened to the website. We then gathered statistics from 2008 to 2017 in an attempt to separate myth from fiction when it comes to the role played by cell phones in distracted driving.

What Was the Purpose of Distraction.gov?

The primary aim of Distraction.gov was to bring awareness to drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. According to the website, “distracted driving is any non-driving activity a person engages in while operating a motor vehicle.” The site identifies three primary kinds of distraction (Source).

  • Manual: The act of taking both hands away from the steering wheel when the car is still moving.
  • Visual: Involves the driver taking their eyes off the road while the car is in motion.
  • Cognitive: A situation where the driver takes their mind from the task of controlling a moving vehicle.

The website also listed several reasons behind distracted driving: the presence of pets and children in the car, stressful jobs, and busy lifestyles. With advances in technology, distracted driving usually involves using an electronic device like a mobile phone. However, it may also include adjusting the car radio, the satellite navigation system or reading advertisements on the side of the road.

The History of Distraction.com

Distraction.gov first appeared on the internet in 2010. At this time, apart from carrying facts and figures, the site also attempted to answer questions linked to distractive driving, such as the ones we list below (Source).

  • Why do people do it?
  • Who are the offenders, and how great is the problem?
  • Is it safe to use a hands-free cell phone while driving?
  • Is talking on the phone any worse than having a conversation with someone in the car?
  • Are there any federal laws regarding distractions in cars?
  • How do states deal with the problem?
  • What, if anything, is NHTSA doing to deal with this problem?

By August 2015, Distraction.gov not only had a new design, but it also covered the US Department of Transportation’s activities. Three new links where introduced: a pledge that drivers could download and sign, information about campaigns, and other resources that visitors could download.

What Happened to Distraction.gov?

In 2016, the US government shut down Distraction.gov. Although we searched, we couldn’t find any published report that explained why the site was shuttered.




1. NHTSA: Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) Encyclopedia

2. NHTSA: Driver Electronic Device Use in 2017

3. Text Result: How Many Texts Do People Send Every Day (2018)?

4. IIHS: Fatality Facts 2017, Teenagers

5. AT&T Teen Driver Survey

6. National Survey on Distracted Driving Attitudes and Behaviors – 2015

7. Governor Cuomo Announces Crackdown on Distracted Driving

8. Texting and Driving Fines by State

9. Distracted Driving in Fatal Crashes, 2017

10. Distracted Driving 2016

11. Distracted Driving 2015

12. Distracted Driving 2014

13. Distracted Driving 2013

14. Distracted Driving 2012

15. Distracted Driving 2011

16. Distracted Driving 2010

17. Distracted Driving 2009

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