2021 SafeTREC Traffic Safety Fact Sheet: Distracted Driving


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines a distraction-affected crash as one where a driver was determined to be distracted at the time of the crash. 

According to the National Safety Council, mobile devices are among the top distractions for drivers nationwide. Studies have found that talking on cell phones, both handheld and hands-free, increases crash risk by about four times relative to baseline driving. Built-in communication technologies, along with hands-free cell phone technologies, draw attention away from driving. The ability to multitask is a myth, as attention toggles from either driving to vehicle technologies. The longer time one pays attention to the technology, the less time attention is paid to the roadway environment.

Historically, road safety efforts focused on changing human behaviors to prevent crashes. The Safe System approach reframes efforts to save lives by expecting crashes to happen and focusing attention on reducing the severity of injuries when a crash occurs. By understanding the nuances of distracted driving crashes, transportation professionals can better address every aspect of crash risks and implement multiple layers of protection to ensure that everyone traveling on California roadways will go safely. Analyses presented in the distracted driving program area are defined by a driver’s inattention to driving due to some other activity. These analyses will focus exclusively on fatalities using the FARS data set as the SWITRS distracted driving data is limited to cell phone use.

Garrett Fortin
Jill F. Cooper
Publication date: 
September 30, 2021
Publication type: 
Fact Sheet