D. Gilson is a writer and author of essays, poetry, and scholarship that explore the relationship between popular culture, literature, sexuality, and memoir. His latest book is Jesus Freak, with Will Stockton, part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 Series. His other books include I Will Say This Exactly One Time and Crush. His first chapbook, Catch & Release, won the 2012 Robin Becker Prize from Seve...

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has appeared on legaladvice.com, themanifest.com, and vice.com.

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer

UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020

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You might think you're multitasking, but you're really just putting yourself and others in danger.
You might think you’re multitasking, but you’re really just putting yourself and others in danger. (image by streetsblog.org)

Most of us are familiar with distracted drivers. Be it the lady who’s shaving her legs as she drives down the road, a teenager who’s texting their latest Facebook status update or using Facebook on a smartphone or feature phone, or simply a pet owner who’s let their dog run wild in the confines of their car, forcing them to hold the dog in their lap, distracted drivers take all forms.

Here’s a quick look at some statistical data, courtesy of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), involving distracted driving and drivers:

  • In 2009, 20 percent of all injury crashes involved some form of distracted driving.
  • 995 people were killed in crashes involving distracted driving by way of cell phone.
  • Cell phone usage accounts for almost 1/5 of all distracted driving fatalities.
  • According to the University of Utah, drivers who use cell phones have reactions as delayed as if they were driving with a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent.
  • Drivers aged under 20 years old make up the greatest proportion of distracted drivers. Those aged 20 to 29 years old are the second greatest proportion of distracted drivers.
  • 16 percent of drivers under 20 years old involved in fatal crashes were driving distracted. 13 percent of drivers 20 to 29 years old involved in fatal crashes were distracted.
  • If you’re using a hand-held device while driving, you’re four times more likely to be involved in an accident serious enough to be injured.
  • Distracted driving crashes accounted for 448,000 injured people on American roadways in 2009.
  • 5,474 people were killed on U.S. roads due to distracted driving in 2009.

Not only have we been exposed to distracted drivers, but we also know it goes without saying that distracted driving is a serious problem for each of us. The problem is, despite all the statistical data gathered, the studies that have been and are currently being conducted – we really have no idea how many of the drivers on the road are being distracted. We know things like how many people were killed and injured, but we’ve got no clue how many near misses happen.

But, this sort of thing is estimated using mathematical models and the scientific method. Random survey data is collected and processed, which can extrapolate reasonable estimates for us. Let’s look at the cell phone equation again – here are the estimates of cell phone penetration in regards to distracted driving, again courtesy of the NHTSA and their 2009 nationwide survey on driver habits:

  • There was a drop in the number of drivers observed who had a cell phone or other hand-held electronic devices in 2009. The rate fell from 1 percent of all drivers to 0.6 percent.
  • Younger driver make up the greatest population of drivers using hand-held devices, with 1.1 percent of drivers 16 to 24 years old being seen using them.
  • The south leads the nation in such use, with a full 1 percent observed using them.
  • Females make up a greater proportion of hand-held device users at 0.7 percent. Males attribute 0.5% to the proportion.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s survey of driver habits is the only real source we have on use of hand-held electronics. The data can be extrapolated to indicate that at any given moment, 672,000 vehicles are being driven on American roadways by a driver who is using a hand-held cell phone during daylight hours. That translates into meaning 9 percent of all vehicles are being driven by a motorist using a cell phone, nearly 1 out of every 10 cars.

Since there are so many drivers who are distracted by cell phones or other handheld devices, and since these types of drivers only account for 18 percent of all distracted driving deaths, it may seem like a simple matter to simply multiply the numbers from cell phones in regards to total fatal or injury crashes to come up with a total number of distracted drivers, but it’s not that easy, if we want to adhere to sound scientific principles. We’ve got observational data to correlate with cell phone usage, but no such data on doing things such as eating or being involved in a heated argument with a passenger. But we do know that 82 percent of all distracted driving fatal crashes don’t involve a cell phone, so we don’t think it is out of the question to consider the number of potential distracted drivers a large one. Seven figures large, easily.

16 percent of all fatal crashes involve distracted drivers. 20 percent of all injury crashes involve distracted drivers. Even if we can only make specific observations about certain type of observed distractions, such as cell phones, it isn’t out of the question to consider that at any given time, there are millions of distracted drivers on roadways in the United States. Stay safe, and don’t allow distractions to make you a statistical footnote in an annual fatalities or injuries report.