Being an attentive and alert driver can help prevent crashes that lead to unintentional injury and death. With the wide use of smartphones in the United States, distracted driving has become an important traffic safety topic. While cell phones and navigation devices often are the culprit when it comes to distracted driving, conventional distractions such as interacting with passengers and eating also contribute to crashes. Distracting tasks can affect drivers in different ways and can be categorized as visual, manual, and cognitive distraction.
The National Safety Council (NSC) analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data finds that 3,142 people died in distraction-affected crashes in 2020. This is an increase of about 1% from 3,119 deaths in 2019. See Data Details to understand the data limitations and potential underestimation of the number of distraction-affected crashes.
Source: NSC analysis of NHTSA Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data.
How Common is Driver Cell Phone Use?
Over the last 10 years, the prevalence of drivers using hand-held cell phones at any given daylight moment has decreased from 5.2% of drivers in 2012 to 2.5% in 2021. These figures are from the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) conducted by NHTSA, which is the only national estimate of driver cell phone use based on driver observations.
The percent of drivers manipulating hand-held electronic devices has increased 127%, from 1.5% in 2012 to 3.4% in 2021. Among other activities, this observation includes text messaging. Drivers observed with visible headsets remains low at 0.4% in 2021.
- Data Table
Source: NHTSA. (2013 – 2022). Driver Electronic Device Use in 2011 through 2020: Traffic Safety Facts Research Notes.
This graph shows that the total number of fatal distraction-affected crashes increased 11% in 2021 compared to 2020. Distraction-affected fatal crashes have also increased 5.4% since 2011 and now number 3,211. The percent of fatal distraction-affected crashes involving cell phone use in 2021 was 11.7% compared to 12.3% in 2020.
- Data Table
Source: NSC analysis of NHTSA FARS data.