Is distracted driving getting worse?

We don’t talk about it nearly as much as we should. Distracted driving has evolved as quickly as any part of our lives, and it’s potentially the biggest cause of accidents today. The government reports that only about 4,000 people died in 2017 from accidents where distracted driving was listed as the cause. I say “only” because impaired driving accounted for about 34,000 deaths in the same period. But, I would say that it’s likely that distracted driving is underreported. Way underreported.

How do you measure distracted driving?

There’s distracted driving and there’s distracted driving. It’s pretty clear that if you’re texting while driving, that counts. But what about eating? What about playing around with the giant touch screen found in most late-model cars? Do those count as distracted driving? According to the government, they don’t. Distracted driving only counts as playing with something that isn’t attached to the car, that takes your eyes off the road. And, it’s notoriously hard to prove. So, of course it’s underreported.

Distracted driving has evolved.

Back when I was a kid, distracted driving meant swinging one hand wildly behind you trying to shut your kids up. The other hand would have a cigarette in it. Yes folks it sure was a different world.

I did a lot of driving on slow freeways in the 2000s and I believe I saw every possible type of distracted driving available at that moment. Yes, I mean I saw eating, shaving, reading books… I saw one woman plucking her eyebrows while in traffic. And yes I saw a lot of accidents.

Of course today distracted driving is at a whole new level. Today you can actually watch movies while you’re driving. I know someone who does it with some regularity. You can interact with your phone a dozen different ways and none of them really let you put your full attention on the road.

Not only that but cars have become a whole lot more entertaining too. You can watch scrolling maps, look at information on the web, access all sorts of music and video information, and that’s not all. Probably the king of distracted driving potential is Tesla. Their giant touchscreens let you surf the web, turn on the rear camera, and surf through several apps worth of streaming content. Video and audio is turned off on the big screen, but that may not be permanent. Not only that, when you are at a stop you can actually play video games on the screen. No, you can’t do it while driving but if you’re in stop-and-go traffic, you could start a game and not realize traffic had moved.

What can you do about distracted driving?

Short of putting cameras in everyone’s cars it’s going to be very hard to prove that distracted driving is a factor in any accident. If you’re texting, those records can be pulled from the cell phone company. However if you’re just watching content stored on your phone there’s very little way to prove that.

The biggest thing you can do is just be smart. Put the phone down. Don’t even use the voice assistant. Just don’t think about it. If your phone has a “Do Not Disturb While Driving” option (all iPhones do) then turn it on. This may seem like weird advice from a company that sells vehicle cell boosters but we’d rather you got there alive.

If you do use your phone for legitimate things while driving, keep it mounted in a cradle booster or plugged into the car. Use the handsfree options that you have. More importantly, whether you talk, text, play, or just horse around, remember one thing. Your car is a two-ton death machine hurtling down the road faster than evolution designed us to go. Just pay attention. We want you around, and shopping at, for a long time to come.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.