A continuing concern: Distracted driving has increased, again

Distracted driving has increased more than 30% over the past five years. What does this mean for risk on our roads?

Distracted driving is undoubtedly a safety issue, with each instance putting all road users – drivers, passengers, bicyclists, pedestrians, etc. – at risk.

With a mission to change transportation for the better, distracted driving has always been top of mind at Arity. Every year, we dive into our massive driving behavior database to bring light to this epidemic of phone handling behind the wheel. And unfortunately, this year, we found that distracted driving has increased, again.

From 2019 to 2024, distracted driving has increased more than 30%.

It’s clear we still have a long way to go when it comes to creating a safer future of mobility. Here are three things you should know about distracted driving levels, other dangerous driving behaviors, and reducing road risk.

#1 Distracted driving is an ongoing epidemic

Even though the riskiness of phone handling behind the wheel is common knowledge, this dangerous driving behavior continues to increase each year.

From the beginning to the end of 2023, we saw a 7% rise in distracted driving.

These year-over-year stats are disheartening, especially when you realize that in 2021 alone, distracted driving resulted in 3,522 fatalities and 363,415 nonfatal injuries.

Using our distracted driving data, we uncovered important insights to know around the behavior, including:

Distracted driving is more common during the colder seasons. The behavior becomes more prominent starting in August and September and remains heightened through the end of the year.

In 2023, the rate of distracted driving was highest in December.

This supports an overall trend we’ve seen: When people are driving more slowly – potentially due to rain or snow – distraction tends to increase.

Distracted driving takes place more often on weekdays. The frequency of phone handling while driving tends to be higher when people are commuting, and traffic is heavier.

In 2023, the highest levels of distracted driving took place during the weekday afternoons from 3 – 6:59 p.m.

The reality is that until these levels reach zero, regardless of the time of the week or year, it continues to threaten public safety – taking lives and money.

#2 Distracted driving is just one factor when it comes to road risk

With the largest driving behavior database informed by decades of understanding insurance risk, Arity stresses the fact that distracted driving is just one piece of the puzzle when looking at what’s causing risk on our roads. There are several factors that directly impact a drivers’ risk, which include other behaviors beyond phone handling behind the wheel – such as speeding, hard braking, and extreme acceleration.

However, our recent consumer poll found that while 68% of drivers agree distracted driving is extremely unsafe, only 4 in 10 believe speeding and hard braking are as well – while 1 in 4 drivers view extreme acceleration as a neutral behavior.

While these viewpoints can likely be attributed to the fact that distracted driving is often the focal point when it comes to discussing road risk, we want to flip the script and bring attention to all the factors.

#3 Everyone has a role to play in reducing road risk

While it’s easy to hyper-fixate on one thing as the problem, transportation is complicated, and solving for distracted driving – or even risky driving behaviors in general – will only do so much.

There are so many reasons why our transportation system is broken – from risky driving behaviors to poor road designs to limited access to public transportation and beyond. And because there’s not one, single problem to solve in transportation, there’s not one, single person or group responsible for fixing it. Everyone has a role to play in creating a smarter, safer, and more useful way to navigate the world.

Earlier this year, our President Gary Hallgren wrote an article in Fast Company, mapping out three crucial steps in our journey to the future of mobility.

  1. Turn data into insights. Massive amounts of data are being generated across the transportation system, which can and should be used to identify and truly understand the pressing problems impacting road safety.
  2. Turn insights into action. With these insights, tech companies, government agencies, and other transportation stakeholders can start to build innovative solutions that address and combat these issues. Drivers can also start to understand how their own driving behaviors contribute to road risk and use that to make better decisions behind the wheel.
  3. Work together. As transportation stakeholders, we haven’t made enough progress. In fact, traffic deaths have risen by 30% in the past 10 years. At Arity, we believe the future of mobility is a collective effort. Instead of continuing to work in siloes, we need to come together as a passionate, collaborative community.

Together, we can create meaningful change on our roads. And it all starts with using data to identify and understand the problems. Download our 2023 data report, Crash course: The state of distracted driving in the U.S., to get started.

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Arity is a mobility data and analytics company. We provide data-driven solutions to companies invested in transportation, enabling them to deliver mobility services that are smarter, safer, and more economical.