Report: Distracted Driving Falls for First Time Since 2020

Despite seeing a 4.5% reduction in distracted driving over the last year, U.S. drivers are still 187% more distracted than UK drivers.  -  Photo: Automotive Fleet

Despite seeing a 4.5% reduction in distracted driving over the last year, U.S. drivers are still 187% more distracted than UK drivers.

Photo: Automotive Fleet

Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT) has released its annual report on distracted driving and road safety, “The State of U.S. Road Risk in 2024.”

The report includes analyses from over one billion car trips across millions of U.S. drivers, showing that distracted driving fell by 4.5% in 2023, the first decrease since 2020. It’s important that the data gathered both by Cambridge and from NHTSA is from all drivers, not just fleet drivers.

The Impact of Reduced Distracted Driving

Cambridge estimates the reduction in distracted driving helped prevent over 55,000 crashes, 31,000 injuries, 250 fatalities, and close to $2.2 billion in economic damages — from loss of work to medical costs and insurance costs avoided with safer driving — in the U.S. in 2023.

Those estimates are based on the change in the crash rate from distracted driving and data from NHTSA’s 2019 report on “The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes.”

While a 4.5% reduction in distracted driving over the last year is an improvement, Cambridge noted that distracted driving is still dangerously high in the United States. For perspective, U.S. drivers are 187% more distracted than UK drivers.

In 2023, U.S. drivers spent 2 minutes and 6 seconds interacting with their phones each hour they drove. While this marks a six-second decrease from 2022, this figure is still 17% higher than it was in 2020.

Breaking Down the Data

Cambridge’s report highlights the impact of distracted driving on both crash frequency and severity.

For the first time, the annual report includes data on how the different types of distracted driving affect the impact speed of a crash. In these cases, the distraction event happens 10 seconds before the crash.

For example, crashes where the driver is making a handheld phone call happened at speeds 31% higher than crashes without a handheld phone call. Here is how the other distraction types break down:

  • Hands-free calls: speeds 9% higher than crashes with no distraction
  • Screen interaction (tapping the phone’s screen): speeds 21% higher than crashes with no distraction
  • Phone motion (handling the phone for any reason): speeds 27% higher than crashes with no interaction

These heightened speeds increase crash severity — Cambridge pointed to IIHS research which shows that a 5 mph rise in speed limits results in an 8% increase in fatality rates. 

Cambridge noted that the study was observational, not causal, so analysts didn’t factor other variables such as where the crash occurred. However, observational data suggests speed severity at impact increases when distracted driving happens before the crash.

The report also explores the behaviors of 1.8 million drivers and their crash results. Cambridge uncovered that drivers who crashed in 2023 were 62% more distracted than drivers who didn’t crash. In a separate study, Cambridge found that drivers were distracted in the minute before a crash in 34% of crashes.

Hands-free capabilities, which many vehicles now have, doesn’t necessarily mean drivers will not crash. This was measured by looking at times the screen was activated or that audio was playing but the driver was not handling their phone. That can include use cases like using navigation apps or listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks.

Among the types of distraction events, hands-free calls had the lowest impact in increasing the likelihood of crashing. However, drivers who spent more time making hands-free calls had a 52% higher chance of crashing.

Handheld phone calls had the biggest impact on crash risk among this group of drivers, increasing the chance of crashing by 100%.

What this particular metric reveals is that increases in any distraction can lead to a higher chance of crashing.

Efforts to Curb Distracted Driving

The report evaluates the various factors that can reduce distracted driving, including consent-driven usage-based insurance (UBI) programs.

Across the Cambridge telematics platform, which powers the UBI programs for 21 of the top 25 auto insurers in the U.S., enrollments grew by 142% from the beginning of 2020 through the beginning of 2023.

Cambridge has found that drivers who engage in these UBI programs are 65% safer. Additionally, when the riskiest drivers engage with UBI programs consistently, research shows they can reduce their chance of a crash with an injury by 5.5%.

State legislators and road safety groups have also helped decrease distracted driving. The four states that introduced hands-free laws in 2023 reduced distracted driving by an average of 7.1% and prevented an estimated 8,200 crashes and 37 fatalities in one year.

Compared to “no-texting” states, where it’s illegal to text and drive but not to engage with your phone behind the wheel, the 29 hands-free states saw distracted driving levels 9% lower in 2023.

There was more media coverage of distracted driving in 2023 as well. In 2023, the media produced over 67,000 articles about smartphone distracted driving, resulting in 3.6 billion impressions, a 31% increase over 2021, according to a Meltwater analysis for “smartphone distracted driving” for 2021-2023.

Cambridge research has shown that increased media coverage raises driver awareness and reduces distracted driving.

Google Trends data suggests that consumer awareness of the dangers of distracted driving rose by 54% in 2023. 

Efforts like increasing safety campaigns during Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which is observed each April, can also help.

“While it’s great to see that distracted driving declined in 2023 after years of trending upward, every second that drivers use their phone behind the wheel puts all road users at risk,” Cambridge Mobile Telematics VP of Marketing Matt Fiorentino said. “From consent-based UBI programs, to hands-free laws, this decline shows that we have the tools to fight distracted driving. With the data from this report and CMT’s insights into reducing road risk, we have an opportunity to accelerate this progress even further.”

Other Findings From the Report

The report’s authors also found that screen interactions — like texting and app use — start relatively low in the early morning hours and grow as the morning rush hour approaches. Then at 5:00 p.m., screen interactions grow steadily until about 8:00 p.m., peaking at approximately 2 minutes and 36 seconds per hour.

Phone motion takes incremental steps upwards throughout the afternoon, jumping significantly at 7:00 p.m. to 1 minute and 54 seconds, where it stays until midnight.

Analyists gathered data from’s top 200 most downloaded apps list from early February 2024. They surveyed 1,200 people to ask them if they had used their phone while driving in the past month.

If they had, analyists asked them which of the top 200 apps they had used. The researchers removed apps that people can use hands-free while driving, like navigation, music, podcasting, and audiobook apps. Every app on the list had been used by at least 15 people while driving in the past month.

The top 10 most used apps while driving among those surveyed included:

  1. Instagram (23.9% of drivers)
  2. iPhone Camera (22.7% of drivers)
  3. WhatsApp Messenger (19.8% of drivers)
  4. Facebook (18.9% of drivers)
  5. YouTube (18.6% of drivers)
  6. Gmail (17.4% of drivers)
  7. Facebook Messenger (15.6% of drivers)
  8. Google Chrome (15.6% of drivers)
  9. Afterpay (15.3% of drivers)
  10. Phone (14.9% of drivers)

Analyists pointed out that consumers have become more digital over the past year. In 2023, 43% of consumers said they had purchased something on their phone using an app within the past week. In 2024, this figure rose 9% to reach 47%.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top