Distracted Driving vs Drunk Driving: Fear and Solutions

According to a Cambridge Mobile Telematics survey, most drivers are more afraid of distracted drivers than drunk drivers, but curbing the problem isn't easy.
By February 15, 2018 No Comments

Distracted driving has become an epidemic, but do people believe that it is even more dangerous than drunk driving? According to our recent survey of more than 700 drivers, the answer is yes; 63 percent of respondents noted they are more afraid of distracted drivers than drunk drivers.

Each day, roughly 9 people are killed in crashes caused by distracted drivers – equating to about 3,285 deaths a year. When compared to the number of people killed in drunk driving-related crashes in 2016 (10,497) that number is smaller, driving while distracted is actually more dangerous. Texting and driving at 55 miles per hour is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field with eyes closed. Even more, it takes the average sober driver .54 seconds to hit the brake. For a driver who’s been drinking, add four feet to their reaction time, but add 70 feet for someone who has been texting.

Distracted driving is also harder to prove and report on than drunk driving. By 2004, all U.S. states had adopted the .08 blood alcohol level as the legal limit. Tools like breathalyzers and simple walking tests allow law enforcement to determine if a driver is under the influence of alcohol. The same story true for distracted driving.

To limit distraction while driving, many states have implemented ‘No Texting While Driving’ and ‘Hands-Free’ laws, but our survey found that 75 percent of drivers still see other drivers on their phones every single day. Additionally, phone distraction was a factor in 52 percent of trips that resulted in a crash. So why don’t current laws seem to be working? How were we able to decrease drunk driving fatalities by a third over the past years, but currently we are not making much headway in curbing distracted driving?

To fully understand why the movement to ‘criminalize’ drunk driving worked, and why similar pushes around distracted driving aren’t yielding the same results, we need to dive a bit deeper. The maximum fine and jail time for a first DUI offense is 180 days and/or $1,000, plus a six-month license revocation. The penalties for distracted driving vary by state, but most levy fines under $400. In fact, there are five states that don’t have any laws against texting and driving – a silent message to their residents that distracted driving is not a concerning issue. Additionally, only 39 percent of our study respondents said that state laws on mobile phone usage impact their driving. While laws are important, there is clear need for other methods to encourage drivers to be safer.

For those drivers who want to make our roads safer, 79 percent said getting a discount from an insurance provider would motivate them to be a better driver. Fifty-nine percent of respondents also said that receiving a reward, such as a gift card or promotion, would motivate them, as well. Gamification tools and real-time feedback are other tactics helping to change driver behavior. Users of CMT’s DriveWell app experienced an average 35 percent reduction in phone distraction within the first 30 days of use.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to ending distracted driving, but two things are clear: Drivers recognize it as a critical problem and much, much more can be done to heighten awareness and penalties around this dangerous behavior.

Ready to learn more about how smartphone-based telematics programs are helping drivers mitigate risky driving behavior? Visit