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Prevalence of distracted driving by driver characteristics in the United States

Cox, Aimee E. / Cicchino, Jessica B. / Reagan, Ian J. / Zuby, David S.
Journal of Safety Research
September 2023

Introduction: Distracted driving is a long-standing traffic safety concern, though common secondary tasks continually evolve. The goal of this study was to measure the prevalence of self-reported distracted driving behaviors, including activities made possible in recent years by smartphones.
Methods: We conducted a nationwide survey of 2,013 U.S. licensed drivers (ages 16 +). We created four aggregate distraction categories from 18 individual secondary tasks to estimate the proportion of drivers study-wide and by demographic characteristics belonging to each category, defined as those who regularly did (during most or all drives in the previous 30 days) one or more secondary task within each category. Logistic regression estimated the adjusted odds of drivers belonging to each aggregate distraction category by demographic characteristics.
Results: Sixty-five percent of drivers reported doing at least one of the 18 secondary tasks regularly, and half did at least one device-based task regularly in the past 30 days. Non-device task prevalence trended downward with age, while device-based task prevalence was consistent among younger drivers before declining beginning with age 35. Males (OR, 1.53; 95% CI, 1.16, 2.02), parents of children ages 18 and younger (OR, 1.47; 95% CI, 1.10, 1.96), and participants who drive in the gig economy (OR, 3.85; 95% CI, 2.73, 5.43) had higher adjusted odds of engaging in ‘‘modern” device-based distractions enabled by smartphones (e.g., making video calls, watching videos, using social media) than other drivers. Many drivers are using hands-free capabilities when available for tasks, but for some tasks more than others.
Conclusions: Regular distracted driving is widespread with most behavior concentrated among drivers younger than age 50, though no age group or other demographic studied abstains.
Practical applications: Stakeholders can use these findings to develop countermeasures for distracted driving by targeting specific secondary tasks and the demographics most likely to report regularly doing them.
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