AutoInsurance.com
Published: January 24, 2022Last updated: October 19, 2022

73 percent of American drivers admit to texting while driving

Although most American drivers consider texting behind the wheel to be very dangerous, 26 percent say they do it regularly

Some of the newest car features like automated parallel parking, built-in apps, wireless phone charging, and blind spot alerts make driving more convenient and safer than ever before. But other new technologies, like Tesla’s built-in dashboard video games, may only serve to endanger drivers.

Although Tesla agreed to disable the video game feature while its cars are in drive an investigation, a majority of American drivers are distracted by devices that aren’t built into their cars. Each year, distracted driving injures over 400,000 Americans,1 and smartphones are a primary cause.

Texting while driving

Our study of more than 1,000 licensed drivers in the U.S. revealed that while most say texting and driving is a grave danger, far too many people still take this risk regularly.

Key Takeaways:

  • Around 26 percent of American drivers say they text and drive regularly, even though more than one in three of these drivers consider the practice extremely dangerous.
  • Fifty-three percent of drivers have knowingly broken cell phone laws while driving, and one in three American drivers don’t even know their state’s rules regarding cell phone use behind the wheel.
  • One in 20 drivers admit they’ve caused crashes because they were distracted by their phones.
  • Twice as many iPhone owners regularly text while driving (33 percent) as Android users (16 percent). Only 11 percent of those with smartphones say they “often or always” mute notifications while driving. Two in three drivers with smartphones say they never mute notifications while driving.
  • Women are more likely than men to text, talk, or access social media from behind the wheel, while men are more likely to view pornographic videos, send sexts, or use dating apps on the road.

Dying to Text: Most Americans Have Messaged While Driving Despite Being Aware of the Danger

Modern society remains constantly connected via messages sent by tireless fingers. The process requires at least one hand and one eye on the phone, along with a chunk of our attention.

It’s widely accepted that texting while driving is hazardous, and most drivers readily agree. Forty-eight states ban texting while driving,2 and the participants in our study considered only driving drunk to be a more dangerous roadway behavior.

Activity Percentage of drivers who consider activities moderately or extremely dangerous
Drunk driving 98%
Texting while driving 86%
Driving under the influence of marijuana 69%
Eating or drinking while driving 18%
Making hands-free calls while driving 8%

Even while recognizing the danger, most drivers confess to reading or sending messages in the car. Nearly three-quarters of licensed drivers have texted while driving, and one-quarter do so regularly (on at least one in three drives).

Do you write/read/send text messages or emails while driving?

Do you write/read/send text messages or emails while driving? graph

Note: “Regular” texting occurs on at least 30 percent of drives.

The frequency of texting while driving varies by age, gender, and type of device. Women drivers are more likely than men  to text regularly behind the wheel, a form of cellphone use while driving.

Percentage of U.S. drivers who regularly text while driving
All 26%
Women 30%
Men 21%

Note: “Regular” texting occurs on at least 30 percent of drives.

The difference is even more pronounced by age, with young drivers more likely than older drivers to text on the road. Thirty-four percent of those under age 35 text regularly while driving, while only four percent over age 55 do the same.

There was also a noticeable disparity between iPhone and Android users, with twice as many Apple owners texting regularly while driving.

Percentage of U.S. drivers who regularly text while driving, by smartphone type
iPhone users 33%
Android users 16%

Note: “Regular” texting occurs on at least 30 percent of drives.

Perhaps most shocking is the number of motorists who continue to text while acknowledging that doing so is dangerous, illegal, and has consequences.

Among those who regularly text and drive,
63% know that it’s illegal in their state,
35% believe it’s “extremely dangerous”, and
11% have caused accidents while distracted by their phone.

Texting while driving isn’t the only unsafe practice of potentially high-risk drivers, as many on the road are distracted by phone calls, as well.

Is It Safe to Make Calls While Driving?

Car phones caught on in the 1970s followed by cell phones in the 1990s, with smartphones emerging only a decade ago. Perhaps this extended history explains why voice calls are generally viewed as acceptable and safe while driving.

Science doesn’t agree. Research from the University of Utah suggests mobile conversations cause “inattention blindness” that impairs driver perceptions and reactions more than drinking.3

Nevertheless, all states allow voice calls while driving, though nearly half mandate that drivers use hands free-calling.4 Most drivers believe hands-free calls to be safe, with less than a quarter labeling hands-free calls somewhat dangerous.

How Dangerous is Talking on a Hands-Free Call While Driving?

Not at all dangerous 19%
Slightly dangerous 57%
Somewhat dangerous 15%
Moderately dangerous 5%
Extremely dangerous 3%

This acceptance has translated into widespread practice. Nearly 90 percent of motorists conduct phone calls while driving, and 40 percent do so regularly. Just as with texting, female drivers make voice calls while driving more regularly than male drivers.

Not only are many motorists chatting while driving, but many are doing so unsafely. Despite the availability of hands-free options, we found that more than a third of drivers hold their phones while talking, removing at least one hand from the wheel.

How do you take phone calls while you’re driving?
I always hold my phone in my hands 11%
I talk hands-free or hold my phone 27%
I always talk hands-free 62%

Of those who hold their phone while chatting and driving, 32 percent knew that the behavior was illegal in their state.

Texting and chatting are far from the only activities attracting drivers’ attention. As smartphone capabilities have continued to evolve, other distractions have grown exponentially.

Smartphones Provide Endless Digital Distractions for Drivers

In this age of convenience, anyone can order a pizza, watch a movie, play a game, send a photo, get directions, find a date, make a call, and check out the latest memes with a single device in their pocket.

Almost anything is possible, anywhere, anytime; but not all conduct is appropriate – especially while driving.

Our survey showed that virtually no smartphone features or apps were off-limits to drivers as they indulged in screen time behind the wheel.

Phone activity Percentage who have done this while driving Percent who regularly do this while driving
Viewed maps or directions 92% 70%
Made voice calls 88% 40%
Wrote, sent, or read texts 73% 26%
Browsed social media 38% 10%
Looked at photos 31% 7%
Watched short videos 19% 5%
Played games 9% 2%
Watched movies 7% 3%
Used dating apps 5% 1%
Sent sexts 4% 1%
Watched pornography 4% 1%

Note: “Regular” behaviors occur on at least 30 percent of drives.

Breaking down those numbers by gender reveals a divide across certain categories. More than half of women call, text, or interact on social media while driving regularly, compared to only 41 percent of men. Meanwhile, of those who have watched pornography, sexted, or used dating apps while driving, 64 percent were male.

With so much dangerous behavior behind the wheel, how can we make our roads safer?

Precautions and Remedies

Nearly one in ten fatal car crashes involves driver distraction,5 and five percent of motorists in our study have caused accidents while using their phones. The dangers are documented, but there’s no clear consensus on how to battle the problem.

Certain tech tools can make phone use safer, but only if drivers utilize them. We’ve seen that many drivers ignore hands-free dialing and only 11 percent frequently enable driving mode to mute notifications while in motion.

Likewise, laws cannot have much impact if drivers are unaware or ignore them, a situation that was common in our research.

33% of drivers are unsure of the cell phone driving laws in their state.
78% of drivers who were aware of cell phone laws in their state have knowingly violated them.

Perhaps financial incentives will prove more effective, as most auto insurance companies offer discounts for clean records and encourage safe driving practices, like defense driving.

Ultimately, personal responsibility may be the most practical way to combat distracted driving, but in a world where automakers install video games in car dashboards, common sense appears in short supply.

Conclusion

Addiction is often defined as an inability to discontinue behavior even when it’s knowingly harmful. By that standard, American drivers may have a dangerous addiction problem.

Our survey revealed that drivers know the dangers of texting while driving, are largely aware of distracted driving laws, and have even been in accidents while using their phones. However, they regularly ignore precautions and rules so they can continue to access their screens.

If the efforts of legislators, public service campaigns, and auto insurers can’t curb these dangerous practices, perhaps it is time to let cars drive themselves. See more of our auto insurance research here.

Our data

Autoinsurance.com conducted an online survey (via SurveyMonkey and Prolific) of 1,004 adults residing in the U.S. who have a driver’s license and drive at least once per month. The survey results have a 2-3 percent margin of error.  48 percent of participants were female, 50 percent were male, and 2 percent were nonbinary or chose not to report their sex. 57 percent were aged 18-34, 31 percent were aged 35-54, and 11 percent were aged 55 or older. We defined “regular” phone behaviors as those done by at least 30 percent of drives.

Citations

  1. Distracted driving 2019 (Report No. DOT HS 813 111). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2021, April).
    https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813111

  2. Distracted Driving | Cellphone Use. National Conference of State Legislatures. (2021, July 7).
    https://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/cellular-phone-use-and-texting-while-driving-laws.aspx

  3. A comparison of the cell phone driver and the drunk driver. National Library of Medicine. (2022).
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16884056/

  4. Distracted Driving | Cellphone Use. National Conference of State Legislatures. (2021, July 7).
    https://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/cellular-phone-use-and-texting-while-driving-laws.aspx

  5. Distracted driving 2019 (Report No. DOT HS 813 111). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2021, April).
    https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813111