We Know We're Driving Distracted, and We Do It Anyway

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Mar 03, 2018

Distracted driving is bad enough, but it’s even worse when people are in denial about it. That's the conclusion of a new Esurance survey. It says 58 percent of drivers admit to being either frequently or occasionally distracted at the wheel, but these people are 60 percent less likely than “rarely distracted” motorists to be “very concerned” about their bad behavior.

What's it going to take to stop us from engaging in this risky behavior? (Paul Oka/Flickr)

In other words, the worst distracted offenders aren’t much worried about what they do.  You know that jerk who just cut you off while yakking on the phone? Welcome to these people’s reality. As Esurance puts it, “How do we solve for a distraction problem when many offenders don’t see it as a problem in the first place?”

Here are the top distractions. Talking to passengers once rated high, but now we have other distractions. (Esurance graphic)

Most states restrict cellphone use and texting while driving, though the laws vary widely. Missouri and Montana and Idaho are relative safe havens. In Maine, for instance, it's legal to drive with headphones on.

It’s hard to believe it’s legal anywhere. Watch the video at the end of this post, and consider these statistics: in 2013, 3,154 people were killed and 424,000 hurt in vehicle accidents caused by distracted drivers texting or using cellphones. The U.S. is the world leader in this dangerous pursuit—only 29 percent of British drivers admit to using their phones while driving, for instance.

But bad habits persist. Right now, an estimated 660,000 drivers in the U.S. are using their phones or handling other electronic devices. The effect for these drivers is to triple their chances of getting into an accident.

Even "rarely distracted" drivers do these things. (Esurance graphic)

Back to the Esurance survey. Drivers with long commutes evidently get bored, because they’re 2.5 times more likely to be distracted by phones, GPS or music than are those taking short hops. The most common distracting behaviors are browsing apps (92 percent of those surveyed do it), texting or emailing (91 percent), talking on the phone (54 percent), eating (39 percent), changing music (30 percent) and talking to passengers (21 percent). The latter percentage is low because most motorists drive by themselves to work.

Even 93 percent of drivers who say they are “rarely distracted” admit to talking on the phone occasionally, and 96 percent have been distracted by GPS. Sad to say that drivers with semi-autonomous features in their cars are actually more distracted than drivers without. Of course, some of those features—like collision warnings—also prevent accidents.

Esurance’s recommendations:

  • Leave your phone in the back seat. (Ha, most people aren’t going to do this.)
  • Set your GPS destination before you leave. That’s really sage counsel.
  • Don’t eat at the wheel or apply makeup. But is coffee distracting?
  • Pull over when the kids are causing a fuss or something similar is occurring.

The bottom line is that A) we know that using gadgets is distracting; and B) we do it anyway. That’s sobering, isn’t it? Here's a look at some really horrific distracted driving aftermaths:

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One