According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), “distracted driving” is engaging in any non-driving activity that has the potential to divert the driver’s attention from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing. There are three main types of distraction:

Visual - Taking your eyes off the road.

Manual - Taking your hands off the steering wheel.

Cognitive - Taking your mind off what you are doing.

In 2009, DOT reported that 20 percent of all injury crashes were related to distracted driving. Of those killed in distracted driving-related crashes, 18 percent were using a cell phone. Drivers using a hand-held device were four times more likely to get into serious enough crashes to injure themselves. In addition, cell phone use (hand-held or hands-free) delays a driver’s reaction time as much as having a blood alcohol level at the legal limit of 0.8 percent.

Because of the perceived dangers of either using a cell phone or sending and receiving text messages while driving, a number of states have banned or partially banned the practices. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the following cell phone or texting bans have been enacted:

• Ten states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah and Washington) and the District of Columbia have banned all drivers from talking on hand-held cell phones.

• Five states (Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas) have partial bans on the use of hand-held cell phones.

• Thirty-four states (Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming) and the District of Columbia have banned all drivers from text messaging.

• Seven states (Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia) have partial bans on texting while driving.
Fig. 1 (pg. 28) shows the states that have bans on cell phone use while driving. Fig. 2 shows the states that ban texting while driving.

While all distractions endanger drivers’ safety, DOT is most concerned by texting because it involves all three types of distractions. Research has shown that texting can increase fatal crashes by 6 to 23 times. However, only a limited number of experimentally controlled research studies have examined the dangers of texting, and most studies were performed using a driving simulator, not actual driving.