Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. Any distraction endangers driver, passenger, and bystander safety. Although driving distracted encompasses a variety of activities, cell phone use is among the most dangerous because the behavior involves taking a driver’s hands off the wheel (manual distraction), eyes off the road (visual distraction), and mind off of driving (cognitive distraction).

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Distracted driving joins alcohol and speeding as a leading cause of injury and fatality collisions in the United States.

In 2018, there were 2,841 distracted driving-affected deaths and an estimated 400,000 distracted-affected injuries nationwide.

Cell phone use while driving increases crash risk up to four times when talking and at least eight times when texting.

In a driving simulator study, drivers using cell phones had a longer reaction time than drivers impaired by alcohol at a .08 blood alcohol concentration, the legal intoxication limit.

At any given daylight moment in America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving

It is estimated that every 30 seconds there is a crash involving drivers using cell phones in the U.S.

The average text takes 4.7 seconds. At 45 mph, this is the equivalent of driving blind the entire length of a football field

Drivers using cell phones look at, but fail to see, up to 50% of the information in their driving environment

Research has shown that the human brain is not able to perform two “thinking tasks” at the same time. The brain actually switches quickly between two cognitive activities, making cell phone use while driving particularly dangerous

In 2017, the number of cell phone subscriptions exceeded the US population – 396 million subscriptions compared to 329 million people

In a study published in Health Psychology Journal, 58% of people surveyed would “feel lost” if they didn’t have their cell phone


Effective January 1, 2017, California Vehicle Code Section 23123.5 has made it illegal to hold and operate a handheld electronic wireless communications device, such as a cell phone, while behind the wheel. 

Across the country, many states have implemented bans on phones and texting:

  • Fifteen states, including California, ban the use of handheld phones while driving
  • Forty-eight states, including California, ban text messaging while driving
  • Thirty-nine states, including California, ban any cell phone use by novice drivers
  • Twenty states, including California, prohibit any cell phone use by school bus drivers
  • Penalties are getting more severe for cell phone use while driving: seven states impose points on driving records for violating cell phone laws

State Laws: 
GHSA.org has a current listing of laws for each state
Electronic Wireless Communications Device: Prohibited Use (California Motor Vehicle Code 23123.5)
School Bus or Transit Vehicle Drivers: Prohibition Against Use of Wireless Telephone (California Motor Vehicle Code 23125)
NHTSA Distracted Driving Overview


Cell phone use is like an addiction – people know it is dangerous, but can’t resist the behavior. Before starting a trip, reduce the temptation to use your phone while driving by adopting some of these practices:

  • Turn off or silence the phone
  • Put the phone out of reach
  • Use a phone app to refuse calls and texts
  • Set up a voicemail message that says “I don’t talk or text while driving”
  • Discourage others from calling or texting you while you are driving
  • Ask passengers to manage your phone
  • Review or program maps before starting your trip

How you can influence others:

  • Don’t call or text others while they are driving
  • End conversations received from callers who are driving
  • As a passenger, request phone-free driving
  • Model safe driving behaviors for passengers
  • Encourage your employer to develop a policy that prohibits cell phone use while driving
  • Support laws and community action

View Just Drive – Take Action Against Distraction Video:


TREDS has conducted studies of distracted driving behaviors to develop interventions and recommend policies to reduce distracted driving.

2011 Survey – Distracted Driving Behaviors of San Diego County College Students

2013 Survey – Distracted Driving Behaviors of San Diego County Adults

A review of the literature with summaries of distracted driving research conducted nationally can be found on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Safety Council websites.

NHTSA – Distraction.gov

National Safety Council


In an effort to reduce injuries and fatalities resulting from distracted driving, TREDS partners with the California Highway Patrol to offer a free one-hour class for companies and organizations throughout California. The class, “Just Drive – Take Action Against Distraction,” is designed to increase awareness of the dangers of distracted driving and encourage participants to be safe and responsible drivers, both on and off the job. The curriculum focuses primarily on cell phone use while driving, addressing the consequences of distracted driving for the individual, their family, their workplace and society.

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