Forbes Advisor found that drivers spend an average of 1:38 minutes on their phones per hour of driving. - Photo: Canva

Forbes Advisor found that drivers spend an average of 1:38 minutes on their phones per hour of driving.

Photo: Canva

Each year in the U.S. thousands of people are killed, and hundreds of thousands injured, in crashes in which driver distraction played a role.

About 3,000 people die in auto accidents due to distracted driving every year. Each year, approximately 3,000 people lose their lives to car accidents resulting from distracted drivers. This accounts for between 8% and 9% of all fatal motor vehicle collisions on roads across the U.S.

According to Forbes Advisor's latest distracted driving statistics:

  • 3,142 people died because of distracted driving in 2020
  • 2,880 fatal accidents in 2020 involved a distracted driver
  • 8% of fatal car accidents are due to distracted driving
  • Drivers spend an average of 1:38 minutes on their phones per hour of driving
  • The most distracted driving happens between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.
  • The least distracted driving happens between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.
  • Cell phone use was involved in 12% of car accidents
  • People use their phone while driving in poor weather conditions

Driving distraction is both common and dangerous. Many studies and data analyses show that your odds of a collision are much higher if you’re distracted from the driving task.

One reason is the simple fact that driving already demands dividing your attention among multiple tasks — operating the gas and brake pedals, controlling your vehicle, scanning the area, assessing, and responding to changes in traffic patterns, looking for road signs, and many others.

When your hands, eyes, and mind are occupied by something other than driving, you place yourself, your passengers, and other motorists in danger.

Why Are We So Distracted?

Distraction has always been an issue for drivers for as long as we’ve been operating motor vehicles. But today it’s more prevalent and on the rise for a variety of reasons.

  • The fast pace of life today encourages people to multi-task, even while driving. When you’re feeling hurried, you may view your drive time as downtime, or a good time to catch up on other tasks on your lengthy “to-do” list.
  • The pace of business is accelerating, creating more pressure for business drivers to multi-task and leave little room in their schedules to handle necessary tasks while they’re not driving.
  • Advanced technologies and other features available in today’s vehicles — Hands-free calling, texting, GPS, and other tech features of your vehicle might seem safer than using handheld devices, but they are still not completely safe and cause serious distractions. Drivers can become too dependent on these features and allow their focus to wander while driving.

The Distraction Myth: It’s Not Just The Phone

When you think “driver distraction,” one of the first things to enter your mind is probably the cell phone. That’s because so much media and legislative attention has focused on cell phone use as a factor in reducing inattentive driving.

While cell phones do pose a serious risk, they’re not the only problem. A whole host of distractions, both high-tech and low-tech, can threaten your safety while driving.

Technologically Challenged and Low-Tech Diversions

The explosion of communications technology is a blessing and a curse for business travelers. It’s a great way to keep in contact with customers, suppliers, and colleagues.

Yet, the accessibility of the technology creates an expectation that both you and the people you’re trying to reach are always available.

If you spend much of your day driving, the truth is you aren’t always available to communicate. It’s likely you feel pressured to be available, and that’s why so many motorists readily reach not only for their phones but can send and receive messages on smartwatches, and laptops and tablets are within reach of view when they’re behind the wheel.

Even if you’re among the motorists who make it a point not to use a phone or other form of technology while driving, you still may be distracted in many other ways.

Eating while driving is increasingly common — a trend fueled by fast-food drive-through lanes and hectic schedules. Trying to juggle a sandwich or burger in one hand while you steer with the other is only the beginning of the problem.

Other sources of distraction encouraged by our busy schedules include reading (newspaper, work-related material, or the latest best-seller) and planning out the workday.

Many motorists view quiet time in their vehicle as an opportunity to map out what they’ll do when they reach their first customer stop, to think through a problem they need to solve or to rehearse a presentation they’ll make later in the day.

Whether the greatest distractions for you as a driver tend to be high-tech or low-tech, several general strategies can help you maintain your focus on the road.

Tips for Staying Focused

  • Don’t keep potentially distracting items within sight or reach. Store them in a travel/computer bag. Then store your bag someplace inaccessible while you’re driving.
  • Don’t jam your schedule with non-stop appointments. Build in time for breaks — to eat, check your phone for texts and messages, return calls, view, and respond to emails, and give your eyes and legs a short rest. Many of the states we travel through have beautiful, well-maintained rest stops, and make it inviting to stop and take some time for yourself as well as rest during a long drive.
  • It sounds obvious, but if you start your day behind schedule, you’ll be more tempted to multi-task to make up time while driving. Prepare anything you need for your travels the night before and allow time for eating and personal grooming before you get behind the wheel.
  • As a driver, your most important goal of the day should be to arrive at each destination safely. Keeping that goal in mind will help discourage you from engaging in activities that are distracting and dangerous.

More Distraction Equals Slower Reaction

One of the greatest dangers of distraction is that it impairs your reaction time behind the wheel. When your eyes and your mind are focused on something other than driving, you’re unable to react quickly to trouble, such as another vehicle pulling out in front of you or a driver slamming on the brakes unexpectedly.

You might think it’s not a problem to be distracted for a couple of seconds. After all, what can happen in a couple of seconds? Plenty.

If you’re traveling at a speed of 60 mph, you’ll travel approximately 176 feet in two seconds. Two seconds may not seem like a long time to focus your attention away from the road, but 176 feet is a long distance to travel without paying attention. Those two seconds may cost you the time and space you need to react to a problem on the road.

The amount of time you’ll need to respond to trouble is a function of two factors:

  • Human Reaction Time — the time it takes for a person to recognize a problem and take some form of action in response—averages .75 of a second.
  • Mechanical Reaction Time — the time it takes for your brakes or other mechanical component to work once you decide to engage it—averages .75 of a second. That means it will take a minimum of 1.5 seconds to react to a problem you encounter on the road.

If you’re distracted for a second or two, you’ll lose the time you need to take action to avoid a crash. If you’re distracted and you’re following the driver ahead of you too closely, the situation becomes worse.

The reason driver safety experts recommend a two-second following distance on dry roads is because it allows for the 1.5 seconds of reaction time needed to identify and respond to trouble.

When distraction takes your focus from the driving task, it keeps you from doing something that is essential to safe driving and crash avoidance: scanning your driving environment.

To stay safe in your travels, you must know what is happening all around you, all the time. The driving environment changes in seconds – as a vehicle switches lanes, a pedestrian approaches a crosswalk, or a traffic signal changes from green to yellow, for example.

If your eyes and your mind are focused on things other than driving, you won’t be scanning properly and you won’t know what is going on around you. Without that knowledge, you’re at much greater risk of a crash.

The solution to avoiding the dangers of distracted driving is simple: Stay focused on the driving task. When you’re behind the wheel, make safe driving your No. 1 priority.