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Top 10 Causes of Fatal Distracted Driving Crashes

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month

You’re driving. You hear that familiar noise notifying you of a new text message, so you grab your phone to see what it says. The radio goes to commercial, so you take your hand off the wheel to switch stations. There’s an event outside, so you glance over to see what’s going on. These are all examples of distracted driving. Fatal distracted driving crashes happen every day.

Actions like these may only take seconds to do, but they lead to over 3,477 deaths and 391,000 injuries each year. These deaths and injuries are all preventable.

Drivers face many distractions on the road. Distracted drivers risk hitting another car. Additionally, they risk hitting a pedestrian or property.

Erie Insurance studied data to uncover the top 10 causes of fatal distracted driving crashes. The findings and percentage of crashes caused by each distraction are listed below. Note the data is based on police officers’ reports. Some drivers may not admit to police that they were distracted at the time of the crash.

top 10 causes of fatal distracted driving

10) Smoking-Related Behaviors – 1%

Smoking-related behaviors include smoking, lighting a cigarette and tapping away the ashes. Fewer Americans smoke cigarettes than ever before. But, smoking still contributes to fatal distracted driving crashes.

Smoking and driving is dangerous because it involves taking your hand off the wheel. The process of lighting and smoking a cigarette takes time. Your eyes and attention will be off the road. Also, your hand will be off of the wheel. It will be more difficult to react to situations on the road with a cigarette in your hand.

9) Moving Objects in Vehicle (such as a pet or insect) – 1%

Your first reaction after seeing a bug is probably to swat it away or kill it. Or you might pick it up with a tissue and set it free. But, these things are dangerous to do if you’re driving. In fact, one girl caused a four-car crash that injured 11 people when she tried to kill a spider while driving.

If you see a bug or if your pet is bothering you, pull over when it is safe to do so and address the situation. Even if you’re terrified of bugs, take the time to deal with the spider in a calm manner. This is better than getting into a crash or injuring someone else.

8) Using Device/Controls Integral to Vehicle – 1%

A good example of this would be adjusting your seat or mirrors. If someone else drove your car last, you might have to adjust your seat and mirrors to the proper position. Make sure you do this before you drive, as it is unsafe to do on the road.

steering wheel and navigation controls - forms of distracted driving

7) Adjusting Audio or Climate Controls – 2%

Between annoying commercials and bad songs, you may switch the radio station several times during a car ride. But, adjusting the radio is a distraction.

Combat this distraction by creating a playlist on your phone. Or, you could create a custom CD to play in the car. Additionally, if you have a passenger, give him or her control of the music.

distracted driving while playing with radio


6) Eating or Drinking – 2%

It’s hard to resist the french fries you just bought from the fast food drive-thru. But, taking your hand off the wheel to eat or drink is risky. Enjoy your food in the parking lot before continuing on the road. Or, fight the urge and wait until you get to your destination.

If you’re on a long road trip, eat at a rest stop or picnic area. It’s better to be a few minutes behind schedule than try to eat a sandwich while driving. Don’t let hot fries be the cause of your fatal distracted driving crash.

5) Reaching for or Using Device Brought into Vehicle – 2%

Reaching for or using a device like a GPS or headphones is dangerous. Even if you’re at a red light, your attention is diverted. Your foot could slip off the brake as you stretch your arm to grab an item in the glove compartment. Make sure these items are easily accessible before driving.
Navigation devices should be set before you start driving. Additionally, headphones are illegal to wear in both ears while driving.

4) Other Occupants – 5%

Talking to or looking at other occupants causes a distraction. Passengers in the car can be a distraction. Whether it’s a crying child, noisy adults, or a frantic pet, other occupants can take your focus off driving.

In some cases, it’s helpful to have a person in the passenger seat. This person can control the radio and input directions into the GPS. It also means there’s another set of eyes on the road. But, having a conversation with a passenger can also be distracting. Be sure to stay alert when other occupants are in the car. Your eyes should always stay on the road.

3) Looking at Something Outside the Car – 7%

This is commonly referred to as “rubbernecking.” As humans, we’re always curious. But checking out the person jogging or looking at the new stores along the roadside is dangerous. This is the #3 cause of fatal distracted driving crashes. You’re not paying attention to the road ahead of you. Looking away from the road is unsafe.

rubbernecking causes distracted driving accidents

2) Cell Phone Use – 14%

Many states have laws prohibiting texting while driving. This includes PA and NJ. But, 36% of drivers admitted to texting while driving in 2015. 660,000 people admitted to using an electronic device while driving during the day. Texting is dangerous because it takes your eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, and mind off the task of driving.

Whether you’re texting, talking, or browsing the web, using a cell phone while driving is deadly. Even hands-free devices distract drivers.

And the #1 Cause of Fatal Distracted Driving Crashes is…

1) Daydreaming – 62%

Being “lost in thought,” or daydreaming is the #1 reason for distracted driving crashes. It’s easy for your mind to wander, especially during long drives. But when you’re thinking about your upcoming vacation, it takes longer for you to react. Daydreaming takes your attention off the events happening on the road.

Even though your hands are on the wheel and your eyes are on the road, your thoughts are not on driving. Your reaction time will be slower as you take your focus away from the task of driving. A split-second could be the difference between rear-ending a car in front of you and stopping in time. Don’t be the cause of a fatal distracted driving accident. Keep your mind on the road.

Distracted Driver Reporting

Did you know New Jersey has a hotline to report distracted drivers? Read this article about New Jersey’s distracted driver reporting phone number. And, if you see a distracted driver on the road, have your passenger call it in!

Philadelphia Distracted Driving Accident Attorneys

There are other causes of fatal distracted driving crashes as well. This list covers the top reasons in PA and NJ. Distracted driving crashes are damaging because they could be prevented. If the driver were paying attention, the crash wouldn’t have happened.
If you or a loved one is hurt in a crash caused by a distracted driver, you need an experienced attorney on your side. We investigate to prove the distraction caused the accident.

If you or a loved one was hurt in a crash caused by a distracted driver, you need an experienced attorney on your side. A distracted driving accident lawyer at Kane & Silverman will fight for your rights. Contact us at 215-232-1000 or fill out our online contact form for a free consultation. We have offices in Philadelphia PA and Marlton NJ. If you can’t make it to us, we can come to you.