Distracted Driving

The U.S. Department of Transportation defines distracted driving as “Any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing.”

The department generally classifies distracted driving behavior as:

  • Visual - taking your eyes off the road.
  • Manual - taking your hands off the wheel.
  • Cognitive - taking your mind off what you’re doing.

More specific behavior includes:

  • Using a cell phone.
  • Eating and drinking.
  • Talking to passengers.
  • Grooming.
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a PDA or navigation system.
  • Watching a video.
  • Changing the radio station, CD, or Mp3 player.  

The DOT reports that in 2008, 5,870 people were killed and an estimated 515,000 people were injured in crashes in which at least one form of driver distraction was indicated on the police report. It noted that people under 20 were the likeliest to be killed in accidents involving distracted driving.

The states have introduced many bills in recent years to address distracted driving. Those ranged from restricting drivers under the age of 18 from engaging in certain activities to restricting certain behaviors such as texting while operating a motor vehicle and prohibiting the use of products that require the driver to excessively remove their hands from the steering wheel. For example, Colorado Chapter Law 375of 2009 prohibits people under 18 years old from using a wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle. It also prohibit people 18 years of age and older from using a wireless telephone to send text messages while operating a motor vehicle. Maryland Chapter Law 194 of 2009 says “A person may not use a text messaging device to write, send, or read or send a text message while operating a motor vehicle in motion or in the travel portion of the roadway.” Maine Chapter Law 446 of 2009 takes a broad approach. It defines ‘operating a motor vehicle while distracted’ as “The operation of a motor vehicle by a person who, while operating the vehicle, is engaged in an activity that is not necessary to the operation of the vehicle, and that actually impairs, or would reasonably be expected to impair, the ability of the person to safely operate the vehicle.”

Access a list of state laws about distracted driving at Distraction.gov.