State Health Officer

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Distracted Driving: A Leading Cause of Crashes

Each day in the United States, approximately 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 people are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.

Distracted driving is driving while doing any activity that takes one’s attention away from driving, increasing the chance of a crash. A driver’s eyes, ears, and complete attention are all required for safe driving. Distractions can include visually taking eyes off the road, manually taking hands off the steering wheel, and even cognitively taking one’s mind off driving.

During daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving. That creates an enormous potential for deaths and injuries. Hands-free phone use is also distracting because it takes the driver’s mind off the road.

Texting is the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text takes one’s eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that is similar to driving the length of an entire football field blindfolded. Alabama’s texting while driving law prohibits using a wireless device to write, send, or read a text message, instant message, or e-mail while operating a motor vehicle.1 Fines are imposed and a two-point violation will be placed on the offender’s driving record.

Other common distractions that are known to cause or contribute to driver injuries and deaths include the following:

  • Passengers - the likelihood of a crash goes up with each additional passenger in the vehicle
  • Using in-vehicle technologies, such as navigation systems
  • Eating or drinking
  • Adjusting the radio, CD player, or temperature controls
  • Listening to loud music or using headphones
  • Grooming or applying makeup
  • Lighting cigarettes – harmful in many ways

Teens are the least experienced drivers and were the largest age group reported as being distracted at the wheel at the time of fatal crashes. Distracted driving is one of the three primary contributing factors to teen driver deaths, along with the use of alcohol and not wearing a seatbelt, so it is important to talk to teen drivers about these dangers. Learn about other contributing factors in teen driver crashes, injuries, and fatalities, on the Teen Driving Facts and Figures page.

Driving is an important and potentially dangerous activity that requires attention and focus from the driver at all times. Everyone should give the responsibility of driving his or her full attention, because any non-driving activity is a potential distraction that increases crash risk.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(April 2018)

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Page last updated: April 2, 2018