Since the invention of mobile phones, communication has never been easier. Staying in regular contact with friends, family and coworkers via voice calls or text messages is something we can do with just a few taps of our fingertips – and we can do it instantly, without delay.

SMS is a popular channel for communication, not just for people chatting with their loved ones but also for brands using business texting to keep in touch with customers. But while text messaging is incredibly convenient and quick to use, there are times when you should avoid this channel – like when driving.

Texting while driving is distracting and puts you and others around you at high risk of injury... and worse. Read on to learn precisely how disastrous this activity can be, including several sobering texting and driving statistics you might not know about.

Distracted driving: a major cause of traffic accidents

First though, a brief overview of what constitutes distracted driving. Essentially, this is any activity that takes a driver's attention from the road. But it can be broken down into three distraction types: visual, manual and cognitive.

  • Visual distraction – when a driver takes their eyes off the road.

  • Manual distraction – which involves the driver taking their hands off the steering wheel.

  • Cognitive distraction – the driver's mind is elsewhere – not focused on the task of driving.

Distracted driving includes not just texting but also eating, speaking on the phone through Bluetooth, talking or looking at a passenger, fidgeting with the car radio, tapping through a music playlist, and simply looking at the Sat Nav for directions. Although not all of these are illegal, they all fall into one of the above categories and are distracting to the driver.

That said, a distracted driver can cause serious road traffic accidents, resulting in all sorts of injuries and even death.

The risks of texting and driving

Many people don't realise how dangerous texting and driving can be. Sadly, some do realise but choose to do it anyway, thinking an incident won't happen because they're 'careful'. However, that way of thinking is perilous, as motor vehicle crashes can happen to any texting driver. And the consequences can be life-destroying.

Take, for example, 17-year-old Liz Marks, who drove into a truck waiting to turn (with its indicator on) because she was merely reading a text message from her mother. The result? She suffered permanent facial injuries, became blind in one eye and had to relearn basic human functions like reading, walking and talking.  The accident also devastated her social life – it was eradicated as her friends moved on with their new lives, minus her. The worst thing about all this is that the text she was reading wasn't even important; it contained just one word: '"OK."

The fact is that a significant number of accidents globally each year are caused by drivers distracted by their cell phones.

What do statistics say about driving and texting?

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), via its 'U Drive. U Text. U Pay.' campaign, over 32,000 people in the U.S. died from crashes relating to distracted driving between 2012 and 2021. Text messaging is the most dangerous form of distracted driving as it combines all three types of distractions: visual, manual and cognitive.

Research also suggests that the dangers of texting while driving are six times greater than driving while intoxicated. And while drunk driving causes more deaths, distracted driving causes more injuries – the number of which is increasing every year.

Car crash due to texting

Other alarming texting and driving statistics and trends

In the U.S. alone, over 3,500 people died in distracted driving incidents in 2021. That’s 8.2% of the total number of vehicle crash fatalities in the same year. For context, this represents a 12% increase on the comparative figures just a year prior in 2020.

In 2019, the number of deaths from distracted driving was a little lower. So you can see there's been a rising trend over the last few years, and worryingly, numbers are expected to rise further in the future unless drivers start taking road safety measures seriously.

Distracted driving statistics from NHTSA

Number of fatalities (total vs. caused by any distraction vs. caused by phone-in-hand). Source: NHTSA (Distracted Driving in 2021).

What age group texts and drives the most?

Out of the total number of distracted driving fatalities in the U.S. in 2021, the highest number of them – 729 – involved people aged 25 to 34. In second place were drivers aged 35 to 44, with 474 accidents. The group with the smallest number of such fatalities were aged 75+ (which makes sense, considering older drivers are most likely to lack proficiency in technology).

Tragically, 8% of all distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2021 were teens aged 15-19, and 47% of all the people killed in teen distraction crashes were also in the same age bracket. A paper published in the Journal of Adolescent Health a few years ago revealed that 84% of 16 to 19-year-old drivers admit to using their smartphones while behind the wheel. Furthermore, 35% of those teen drivers involved said they did this to read texts and 27% to send them.

U.S. laws against cell phone use, texting and driving

Texting and driving is recognised as a serious offence throughout most of the U.S. A total of 53 states and territories now have driving laws against this activity, while 29 states and territories have banned handheld cell phone use while driving.

The consequences of texting and driving in affected states and territories

The laws (and the severity of repercussions upon breach) vary depending on the U.S. state. Here are a few examples:

  • Texas – which has one of the highest numbers of fatal distracted driving accidents recorded, imposes a fine of up to $200 for reading, writing or sending a text while driving.

  • Missouri – the newest state to make it illegal to text and drive (under the Siddens Bening Hands-Free law) will issue a fine of up to $150 for first-time violations with increases up to $500 if the felony is repeated within a two-year timeframe.

  • Alaska – texting and driving is punishable with a penalty of up to $10,000 and one year banged up in jail. And if you cause an accident resulting in a fatality, you could receive a fine of up to $250,000 and twenty years in prison!

Currently, Montana is the only U.S. state with no law explicitly declaring texting and driving a crime, as long as you don’t cause an accident. If you do and it results in injury or death, this classes as careless driving, which comes with a maximum $5,000 fine plus jail time.

How to avoid becoming a distracted driving statistic

First up – it's obvious, but we'll state it anyway – just don’t text and drive. This will hugely lower the risk of you, your passengers, other road users and pedestrians becoming involved in distracted driving accidents. Also, take the following driving safety measures:

  • Turn on DND (Do Not Disturb) on your cell phone so it doesn’t ring or ping with text or call notifications while driving.

  • Temporarily block text messages on your phone if this feature is available. For example, iPhones have a setting called Driving Focus, which, when you enable it, limits or silences texts to help you stay focused on the road. You can also set up Siri to read text messages to you.

  • Pull over at the side of the road if you really need to read or send a text urgently.

  • Use your phone hands-free if your vehicle has this option.

Remember, texting isn't only distracting when you have your phone in hand typing a message or reading one. Using voice-to-text is also diverting because even though your hands and eyes are where they need to be, your mind is elsewhere (hence, a cognitive distraction).

Woman using a phone while driving

Texting while driving: dangerous yet easily preventable

Texting while driving is a major cause of car accidents in the U.S. and worldwide. Distracted drivers aren't the only ones at risk of life-altering injuries or even death – innocent passengers and bystanders are too. The stark reality is that tens of thousands of lives have been lost over the last decade due to distracted driving.

Fortunately, paying closer attention to your driving habits and highway safety can reduce the risk of yourself and others being included in future texting and driving statistics. All you need to do is put a few simple measures in place to stop you from looking at (or handling) your phone while driving.

And, if you need to message someone, but you know they're driving, wait until you think they've arrived at their destination before you fire off a text – this might just be the action that prevents them from looking at their phone in that split second that leads to a car crash.

Discover more informative articles about text messaging in the Messente blog.