Skip to main content
You can also sort pages by filters.
Table of Contents
Download the Full Book

Practitioners and researchers need high-quality data both to identify problems and to evaluate how well countermeasures are working. Unfortunately, it is challenging to collect accurate data about the role of distracted driving in crashes. NHTSA estimates that distracted driving contributed to 3,522 fatalities during 2021, or 8% of all traffic fatalities (NCSA, 2023). However, in-depth investigations of fatal crashes in Norway from 2011 to 2015 found that inattention among at-fault drivers contributed to almost one-third of these crashes (Sundfør et al., 2019). Similarly, naturalistic driving studies suggest distraction may be much more common than what is typically found in crash data. For example, researchers at the University of Iowa examined 1,691 crashes involving drivers 16 to 19 who were participating in a study using in-vehicle recording devices. The devices captured forward view and in-cab video during the 6 seconds preceding each crash. The researchers selected crashes where the teen struck another vehicle or object. (Crashes in which the teen’s vehicle was struck from behind were excluded.) Overall, drivers were engaged in some type of potentially distracting behavior prior to 58% of these crashes. The most common distractions were attending to passengers and cell phones (Carney et al., 2015). In another study using instrumented vehicles, drivers in 40% of truck crashes and 56% of motorcoach crashes were involved in some type of potentially distracting behavior prior to the crash (Hammond, Soccolich, & Hanowski, 2019). Taken together, these studies suggest that potentially distracting behaviors are more common than what appears in official statistics based on police reports.

To the extent possible, States should strive to improve crash data collection related to distraction. The fifth edition of Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria (2017) recommends that crash reports include the following driver behaviors: not distracted; talking/listening; manually operating (texting, dialing, playing game, etc.); other action; unknown. Additionally, the criteria recommend that crash reports include the following sources of distraction: hands-free mobile phone; hand-held mobile phone; other electronic device; vehicle-integrated device; passenger/other non-motorist; external (to vehicle/nonmotorist area); other distraction (animal, food, grooming); not applicable (not distracted); unknown. Training for law enforcement officers is also critical to ensure they understand distracted driving laws and accurately record distracted driving when conducting crash investigations (National Traffic Law Center, 2017).