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Distracted Driving and Cell Phone Use

December 3, 2021
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Jill Barnas

Executive Summary

Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, and is a significant public health and safety issue. One of the most common driving distractions is cell phone use while driving. Due to the increased prevalence of cell phone use while driving over the last 20 years, a combination of smartphone applications, advanced vehicle technologies, educational campaigns, and legislation have been implemented to reduce distracted driving and associated crashes. Missouri is one of two states that does not prohibit texting and driving for all drivers. Missouri law (RSMo 304.820) prohibits texting and driving for those under the age of 21. 

Highlights

  • During 2020, distracted driving accounted for 12% of Missouri vehicle crashes and 9% of driving fatalities. 
  • Of the distracted driver accidents, 14% involved a cell phone and 29% of those cell phone-related accidents resulted in injuries and fatalities. 
  • Approximately 29 smartphone applications have been designed to prevent phone use while driving. The safety implications and potential effectiveness of such applications relies heavily on the drivers’ voluntary use.
  • Research shows technological advancements in vehicles, such as lane-keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, and hands-free capabilities, can actually contribute to increased distracted driving.
  • The effectiveness of driver awareness education and campaigns have yielded varying results in reducing driver distraction in all populations, including teens.
  • While cell phone-use-laws and subsequent fines vary from state to state, 48 states specifically ban text messaging for all drivers.

Limitations

  • Crashes may involve more than one type of driver distraction. Therefore, Missouri counts of distraction-related crashes, persons killed, and persons injured may be duplicated.
  • Reports suggest that all-driver handheld cell phone bans have resulted in long-term reductions in hand-held phone use. However, the effect on reducing crashes from distracted driving remains unclear.
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