Distracted Driving Guide: The Epidemic of Distraction Behind the Wheel
(And Why It Matters)

Has Texting While Driving Caused
Someone You Know To Be KILLED or HURT in a Car Crash?

Odds are - YOU WILL.

after a car wreck

Distracted Driving is defined as anything that takes a motorist's attention off the road while driving.

Operating a motor vehicle safely requires a driver's full attention - when behind the wheel you need to pay attention!

According to statistics provided by the NHTSA, distracted driving caused car accidents (reported in just 2015 alone) accounted for:

  • Deaths - 3477
  • Injuries - 391,000

Any non-driving activity increases the chances of a crash significantly while on the road - and increases the dangers for pedestrians, passengers and other drivers they share the roads with..


Have You Or Someone You Love Been Harmed By Distracted Driving?


"Each day in the United States, approximately 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver." - CDC


Distraction Driving: An Entirely Preventable Epidemic

Electronic devices and cell phones are a major contributing cause of distracted driving car accidents and why they have become so common in the US.

In 2009 Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood testified before Congress he believed that unless steps were taken to stem the epidemic, the problem was only going to get worse. A study published on the U.S. State and Federal Laws Targeting Distracted Driving (NCBI) reveals.

Distracted Driving Statistics since 2009

The distracted driving statistics are clear - when behind the wheel distraction in all forms kills, injures, harms - and is entirely preventable.

  2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Deaths 2,993 3,047 3,098 2,923 2,955 3,477
Injuries 279,000 260,000 286,000 284,000 297,000 391,000

The 3 Types of Distracted Driving

Texting and driving is the most dangerous because it involves all three types of driver distractions:

  • Visual
  • Manual
  • Cognitive
Visual Distractions Explained

Visual Distractions - Anything a driver looks at that takes their eyes off the road ahead.

  • Peeking at kids in the backseat
  • Looking at passing building, signs or billboards
  • Staring at a vehicle's GPS HUD display
  • Texting or using electronic devices
Manual Distractions Explained

Manual Distractions - When drivers remove one or both hands from the wheel to handle something

  • Eating or Drinking
  • Searching for items
  • Texting or using electronic devices
  • Hanging clothes
Cognitive Distractions Explained

Cognitive Distractions - Also known as mental distractions. Being mentally distracted includes anything causing a motorist’s mind to not focus on potential hazards while driving.

  • Talking to a passenger
  • Focusing on the radio or podcast
  • Fatigue
  • Thinking about work or school
  • Texting or using electronic devices
  • Multi-tasking


rear-end accident statistics

As stated above texting while driving falls into all three categories - mobile hand-held use causes cognitive, manual and visual driver distraction.

Just imagine you are driving. A message arrives on your mobile phone, you see it and are visually distracted. Reading a text requires the driver to think about the message and a response which is mentally distracting. Then you remove your hand form the wheel to use the tap out a text results in manual distraction.

An experienced motor vehicle accident attorney who deals with crash victims on a daily basis knows first hand and will tell you how deadly this can be for motorists, passengers and pedestrians alike.

crashed in parking lot

Help Your Teenage Driver Understand the Dangers of Distracted Driving.

Why are teenage drivers in more danger?

Teenage drivers are higher risk because of their inexperience operating a motor vehicle. This inexperience on the road can lead to anxiety while behind the wheel and requires more attention when behind the wheel to drive safely.

Teen drivers are also more likely to:

  • Speed
  • Follow to close
  • React slower
  • Easily distracted

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) risky driving fact sheet that teens (16-24 year old) are more likely text, use mobile apps or hold ongoing multi-text conversions behind-the-wheel. In the last couple years studies have shown cell phones are highly addictive as well. A perfect storm increasing the risk of catatstrophe on the road.

This is an extremely dangerous situation which leads to collisions, injuries and death

How Parents Can Help Prevent Disaster

The first and most important thing parents can do is lead by example. Parents should not text or use their mobile device while driving anyway. This is especially important when children are in the car. Set an example by pulling over to take phone calls or text. Children learn from adults so teach the right lessons.

Safety Tips for Parents and Teens?

Here are more safety tips on how to prevent teen distracted driving.

Set some RULES:

  • No passengers in the car
  • One passenger in the car
  • One radio station or artist while the car is moving
  • Turn off all cell phones while driving
  • Meet with your teens peers to talk about the dangers of distracted driving

Types of Distracted Cell Phone Laws, Bans & Restrictions

accidents caused by distracted driving

States have taken different approaches to regulate with distracted driving cell phone laws. Laws are broken down into the following categories. Primary and secondary enforcement is explained below the chart.

  • Laws for certain types of drivers
    • These laws are restricted to a class of motorist: only to beginner, teenage or commercial motor vehicle operators or all drivers.
    • For example on Georgia roadways and highways it is a primary violation for drivers under the age of 18 to use a cell phone while driving.
  • Laws for how mobile devices are used in cars
    • Some State laws deal directly with the mobile devices. For example a ban on hands free phone usage while other States have chosen to ban both hands free and handheld devices. While others elected to ban only texting.
    • For example in Florida it is completely legal to talk on a mobile device. While driving in New York, it is completely illegal to use a cell phone while driving.
  • Laws for certain types of locations
    • Some States ban usage in certain areas (mobile device usage ban in school zones or in construction hazard areas for example).
    • In Texas it is unlawful to use a handheld device while going through a school zone and in Wisconsin it is banned while driving through a construction zone.


List of Distracted Driving Laws by State

    Find your State's Text and Cell Phone Driving Bans Here:

    State Hand-Held Ban

    (All Cell Phone Ban)
    School Bus Drivers

    (All Cell Phone Ban)
    Novice Drivers

    Text Messaging Ban
    (Texting While Driving)

    Crash Data
    Alabama     16, or 17 w/ Intermediate License under 6 months (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Alaska       Yes (Primary) Yes
    Arizona   Yes (Primary) under 18 (Secondary) under 18 in GDL only (Secondary) Yes
    Arkansas 18 - 20 years old (Primary) Yes (Primary) under 18 (Secondary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    California Yes (Primary) Yes (Primary) under 18 (Secondary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Colorado     under 18 (Secondary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Connecticut Yes (Primary) Yes (Primary) under 18 (Secondary) Yes (Primary)  
    Delaware Yes (Primary) Yes (Primary) Learner or Intermediate License (Pirmary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    D.C. Yes (Primary) Yes (Primary) Lerners Permit (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Florida       Yes (Secondary) Yes
    Georgia   Yes (Primary) under 18 (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Hawaii Yes (Primary)   under 18 (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Idaho       Yes (Primary) Yes
    Illinois Yes (Primary) Yes (Primary) under 19 (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Indiana     under 21 (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Iowa     Restricted or Intermediate License (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Kansas     Learner or intermediate License (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Kentucky   Yes (Primary) under 18 (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Louisiana Learner or Intermediate License (regardless of age) Yes (Primary) 1st year of License (Primary for under 18) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Maine     Learner or Intermediate License (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Maryland Yes (Primary)   under 18 (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Massachusetts   Yes (Primary) under 18 (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Michigan   Yes (Primary) Level 1 or 2 License (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Minnesota   Yes (Primary) under 18 w/ Learner or Provisional License (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Mississippi   Yes (Primary)   Yes (Primary) Yes
    Missouri       under 21 only (Primary) Yes
    Montana         Yes
    Nebraska     under 18 w/ Learner or Intermediate License (Secondary) Yes (Secondary) Yes
    Nevada Yes (Primary)     Yes (Primary) Yes
    New Hampshire Yes (Primary)   under 18 (Primary) Yes (Primary)  
    New Jersey Yes (Primary) Yes (Primary) Permit or Provisional License (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    New Mexico In State vehicles   Learner or Provisional License (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    New York Yes (Primary)     Yes (Primary) Yes
    North Carolina   Yes (Primary) under 18 (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    North Dakota     under 18 (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Ohio     under 18 (Primary) Yes (Secondary) Yes
    Oklahoma Learner or intermediate license (Primary)     Yes (Primary) Yes
    Oregon Yes (Primary)   under 18 (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Pennsylvania       Yes (Primary) Yes
    Rhode Island Yes (Primary) Yes (Primary) under 18 (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    South Carolina       Yes (Primary) Yes
    South Dakota     Learner or Intermediate License (Secondary) Yes (Secondary) Yes
    Tennessee   Yes (Primary) Learner or Intermediate License (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Texas   Yes, w/ passenger under 17 (Primary) under 18 (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Utah   Yes (Primary) under 18 (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Vermont Yes (Primary)   under 18 (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Virginia   Yes (Primary) under 18 (Secondary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Washington Yes (Primary)   Learner or Intermediate License (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    West Virginia Yes (Primary)   under 18 w/ Learner or Intermediate License (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Wisconsin     Learner or Intermediate License (Primary) Yes (Primary) Yes
    Wyoming       Yes (Primary) Yes  
    Total States 15 + D.C.
    All Primary
    20 + D.C. All Primary 38 + D.C.
    Primary (32 + D.C.)
    Secondary (6)
    All Drivers: 47 + D.C.
    Primary (43 + D.C.)
    Secondary (4)
    Novice Drivers Only: 2
    48 + D.C.
    Arkansas bans hand-held cell phones while driving in school zones or highway construction zones (secondary enforcement).
    Texas has banned hand-held phones in school zones.


    (Updated July 2017): Data provided by: Governors Highway Safety Association




Is Distracted Driving Against the Law?

There is no Federal law outlawing texting while driving or any blanket distracted driving mandate at this time. The laws for distracted driving are set State by State.

Find your State on the map above to see the rules regarding distracted driving in your State.

States can enact some, all or none of these laws to enforce distracted driving rules to keep motorists safe.

Additionally, local county and city government can pass legislation augmenting these State laws. In New Mexico the texting and driving laws are a local option by jurisdiction.


Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws: Primary vs. Secondary

Beside different types of laws for distracted driving there are also rules for how these restrictions are enforced.

There are primary and secondary enforcement rules that govern the ticketing and stopping of drivers using cellphones.

  • Primary Enforcement - This means a police officer can stop and cite you for only violating the distracted driving law.
  • Secondary Enforcement - This means a police officer can only ticket you for distracted driving if you violated another primary law such as speeding.

All these different laws and types of enforcement can be very confusing from state to state, city to city, county to county.

Next up... What the Federal government is doing to codify and standardize the laws regulating hand-held mobile phone use while driving?

Federal Government Incentives to Help Prevent Mobile Caused Driver Distraction?

In 2012 the US Congress passed the MAP-21 Act. This is the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. This bipartisan legislation provides funding to States who enact safety laws prohibiting or limiting the use of cellular phones while driving.

What Can You Do to Help?

Take the Pledge Movement.

This nationwide movement asks you to pledge not to use cell phones while driving and be an attentive driver. You can help save lives and prevent crashes today.

Pledge To:

  • Protect lives by not text or take phone call while driving. It can wait.
  • Be a good passenger and say something to distracted drivers.
  • Encourage your friends and family to put phones down while driving.

Learn more about the “It Can Wait” slogan to help prevent accidents by not being a distracted driver at the USAA pledge drive here.

As we’ve seen there are a variety of Laws, Campaigns and Slogans designed to prevent distracted driving.

However the car accident rate associated with distraction events continues to increase.

Next up... what you should do if you are involved in a distraction caused car accident?

Were You Injured?


    Distraction Caused Accidents...
    3 Ways To Prove Driver Distraction

    For the average person, police officer or even for a plaintiffs' attorney it may be difficult to prove that someone was distracted or texting behind the wheel when the crash occurred.

    Victims of distraction caused accidents should seek representation with a professional motor vehicle accident attorney immediately following the crash.

    A skilled attorney not afraid to go to trial if necessary and who understands the ways to prove distraction caused events will help maximize a claimants ability to get full and just compensation for damages suffered.

    Your accident lawyer will look to gather the following three forms of evidence courts recognize when building a case to prove the vehicle operator was distracted by a mobile device.

    3 Pieces of Crucial Evidence Used to Prove Distracted Driving

    1. Cell Phone Records of Usage

    Police along with representing attorneys will subpoena the at-fault driver’s phone records directly from their mobile provider. Companies like Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T or Sprint quickly turnover these records which are in two forms.

    • What are the two forms of cellular records used in a distracted driving case?
      • Call Detail Records or “CDR”
      • Billing Records

    CDR Call Records: These records have information on the call from and call to numbers. The Text message sending and receiving numbers. These records will show the date and time of cell phone activity down to the second.

    Mobile Billing Records: The billing records typically only contain information about the time a call was made. This is more of a general statement of mobile phone activity which shows usage by minute only. Seconds matter in a car crash so it is crucial to obtain the CDR record.

    civil vs. criminal courts

    2. Witnesses Statements & Testimony

    This includes the collection of witness testimony or being called to testify in distracted driving accident case. Two types of testimony for this discussion are biased and unbiased.

    • Biased Witnesses: are parties that were involved in the incident or know someone involved in the crash. Their statements as testimony may be given less weight by the police or court system.
    • Unbiased Witnesses: are parties who are not involved in or had anything to do with the incident. Their testimony can be highly valued. An eye witness saying, “I saw the driver looking at her phone just before she slammed into the other vehicle” can be decisive and is considered strong.

    3. Police Records and Statements

    Because of laws banning cell phone usage while driving, it's not uncommon for a chronic texting driver to have been cited previously.

    As we discussed above these laws are enforced in a variety of ways. If a driver has been cited for driving distracted in the past it could show a pattern of negligent behavior.

    In addition, a violation of the traffic laws is generally considered a failure of driver's duty and is an element of proving negligence. You can read more about the 5 elements of negligence here.

    Shortly after the accident police will gather information. Since 95% of all drivers have a cell phone officers will be looking carefully for where the phone is located in the at-fault driver’s car. This location could help establish and prove usage of the hand-held at the time of the accident.

    Police records will also confirm the witness testimony and provide crucial information about the speed of the vehicle that caused the accident and if any additional traffic laws were violated.

    Distraction can lead to a driver failing to stop at an intersection, running a red light, speeding through a stop sign, among many other dangerous violations.

    Since distracted drivers aren’t paying attention their collisions tend to show a higher rate of speed, generally cause greater damage, and result in the driver failing to take action to avoid a collision as would be reasonably expected if they were paying better attention.

    Wrapping It Up

    Distracted driving is very dangerous.

    Whether this is caused by fatigue or texting it has become an epidemic in the United States.

    While Federal and State governments continue to push for tougher laws the death toll and injuries from distracted driving continue to increase.

    Parents children and all drives should do what they can to prevent further incidents.

    If you or someone you know was killed or injured by a distracted driver getting expert legal representation is critical to receiving justice.


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