Most distracted driving deaths don’t involve cell phone use

“Lost in thought” was the main cause of fatal distracted driving accidents, according to a new study.

Erie Insurance looked at 2 years of U.S. police reports for more than 65,000 fatal car accidents: 10% named distracted driving as the primary cause of the crash.

Out of those 6,500 fatal car crashes attributed to distracted driving, 62% of the at-fault drivers claimed to be simply “lost in thought”, or just generally distracted.

Is it likely that distracted driving causes only 10% of motor vehicle accidents that result in a death?

Consider the following:  

  • In over half of fatal traffic crashes, the driver is the casualty. Assuming they did not survive long enough for a police interview, that’s a huge gap in data.
  • Look at non-fatal injury accidents for the same time period: nearly twice as many of those accidents are considered “distraction-affected crashes”. Why would the number of fatal accidents be so much lower than the number of injury accidents?
  • Even when it’s not the driver who is killed – for example, a pedestrian collision – is it likely that the driver would both remember exactly, and also admit, what they were doing at the exact moment of the collision?

Regardless, the Erie Insurance study on distracted driving is important because it reminds us to try to be as manually, visually, and cognitively focused on driving as possible.