Here’s a shocking bit of information. Drunk drivers—though still a real threat—aren’t what most American drivers are afraid of on the road today.
Maybe it’s because drunk driving is on the decline in our country. After years in the spotlight in PSAs, driver’s ed classes, police crackdowns, and outreach campaigns, it seems that the message has finally begun to take hold among today’s younger drivers.
But fear of drunk drivers has been replaced with another fear that many believe poses a greater threat—distracted drivers.
According to a recent survey released by Kelley Blue Book, 97% of consumers surveyed said drivers who use their cellphone behind the wheel represent one of their biggest safety concerns. Compared to the 75% who were concerned about drunk drivers on the road, the statistics show that Americans widely recognize the disturbing trend of texting behind the wheel as a major safety concern.
So more American drivers are worried about texting while driving than drinking before driving. But is distracted driving truly “worse” than drunk driving?
Is Distracted Driving More Dangerous than Drunk Driving?
The question is a complicated one, without a definite answer. A number of factors can contribute to a driving related behavior being “dangerous.”
Obviously both a drunk driver and a distracted one are very dangerous, but which behavior impairs a driver’s ability the most? And which behavior causes more deaths?
It’s difficult to compare impairment levels between the two different driving behaviors. For starters, there are a number of activities you can do with your phone, and they require very different levels of engagement. And a “drunk” driver could meant anything from slightly above the legal limit to blackout drunk.
Still, a number of studies have attempted to compare which of the two activities hinders a driver’s ability more. One study from the University of Utah found that texting while driving impaired drivers the same amount, if not more, than a blood alcohol content of .08%.
If that doesn’t seem frightening, consider that 20% of the people Kelley Blue Book Surveyed admitted to texting behind the wheel. 55% of all millennials said they texted while driving. And consider, unlike drunk driving, phone use while driving happens at all times, every day of the week.
Now go out on the road and imagine that one in five drivers you encounter is legally drunk.
Deaths Per Year
Drunk driving, however, does cause more deaths per year that distracted driving. In the aforementioned study, intoxicated drivers were found to be more aggressive, while texting drivers tended to slow down while using their phone—indicating they were aware of their impaired abilities.
According to the NHTSA, in 2013, there were 3,154 people killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. That same year, 10,076 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes.
However, the death toll for distracted driving seems to be rising as the number of drunk driving deaths falls. In 2002, there were nearly 12,500 deaths related to drunk driving, and 2,600 deaths from distracted drivers.
Texting While Driving vs. Drinking and Driving
What we can say is that both behaviors are incredibly dangerous, with distracted drivers accounting for 10% of all traffic deaths in 2013 (with texting being the most common distraction), while drunk drivers were involved in 30% of all traffic deaths.
While alcohol causes more fatalities, it’s important to consider that a DUI penalty is far higher than the penalty for cell phone use while driving—indicating there is far more of a negative social stigma towards a drunk driver than a distracted one.
In Florida, texting while driving can earn you a whopping $30 dollar ticket, while a DUI comes with a criminal charge and an estimated out-of-pocket cost of $10,000.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a distracted driver, one of the only real ways to hold them accountable for their actions is to fight back with a personal injury claim. Going after negligent drivers legally not only gives you the chance to obtain fair and just compensation so that you can cover the cost of your medical bills and any pain and suffering you endured, but also shine a spotlight on a growing problem.
About the Author:
A partner at Lawlor, White & Murphey and a distinguished personal injury lawyer, Ben Murphey tries complex disputes that include civil appeals, maritime and admiralty claims, wrongful death, and labor disputes. Mr. Murphey has been recognized for his excellence in the area of personal injury litigation by being rewarded with a 10/10 Avvo Rating and named a Super Lawyers “Rising Star” for the last four consecutive years (2011-2014). Mr. Murphey regularly tries cases in state and federal courts around the country, being admitted to practice before all Florida courts and the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.