Recent Studies on Distracted Driving

Distracted driving has become a deadly epidemic in the United States, with statistics showing that hundreds of thousands of people each year are injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver. Over 3,000 of these crashes were fatal.

Distracted driving can come in many forms, from texting, to navigation systems, to Bluetooth headsets and more, so researchers have attempted to get to the root of the problem. A number of recent studies have shed light on this issue and how the problem of combating distracted driving can be addressed.

Texting and Driving

According to a study done in 2012 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), younger drivers report the highest instance of crashes while using cell phones. In surveying 6,000 drivers age 18 and over from across the country, the study shows that crashes specifically involving texting and driving correlated overwhelmingly with the 18-20 age group (see figure below).

Cell Phone Use in Car Accidents related to distracted driving

National Traffic Safety Administration, 2012

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety also conducted a study in 2012 that physically placed data recording devices in the cars of newly-licensed drivers. The devices captured video and audio of the drivers, as well as measured incidences of sudden braking, abrupt turns, and other indicators of distracted driving. The study concluded that electronic device use was “strongly associated with looking away from the roadway,” sometimes leading to serious incidents (p. 38).

These studies prove an important connection between distracted driving by texting and higher rates of accidents, especially among young drivers. However, though texting is most commonly associated with distracted driving, many other devices and factors can constitute dangerous driving distractions.

Hands-Free Devices: Bluetooth, Voice-to-Text, and More

The National Safety Council (NSC) conducted a study published in April 2012 to understand why using hands-free devices, like Bluetooth and even GPS navigation systems, still constitutes risky and distracted driving behavior.

The report cites vision as the most important sense for safe driving, and though hands-free devices prevent drivers from looking away from the road, the NSC proposes that the devices still cause drivers to “look at” but not “see” objects (p. 2).

Due to the human brain’s limited ability to multitask, though drivers on hands-free devices may be able to see everything on the road, they cannot effectively process their surroundings to adequately address hazards and unexpected situations.

The Texas A&M Transportation Institute has made an even bolder claim in a 2013 study regarding voice-to-text devices, claiming these tools actually offer no safety advantage over manual texting. The problem with any cell phone use, whether it is texting or hands-free, is that it impairs driver response times, which can cause serious accidents.

In other words, hands-free devices have not proven to be any safer than manual cell phone use. Distracted driving does not have to involve physically looking down at your device. Driver attention needs to be properly focused on the road in order to interpret inevitable hazards.


The United States government has created a website called to make the public more aware of the hazards of distracted driving, where you can view more studies done on this issue.

Statistics showing the hazards of such impaired driving are easy to find and may help drivers think twice about using cell phones or hands-free devices. In order to keep yourself and others safe, focus your attention solely on the road in front of you. Everything else can wait.