Most drivers are aware of the dangers of driving while distracted. However, something that many drivers do not realize is that in addition to the legal ramifications, these distractions can affect the premiums you pay for your auto insurance.
While any number of things can distract a driver from the road — including eating, adjusting the sound system, or talking to people in your vehicle — the distraction that often has the biggest and most dangerous impact is using a cell phone or other mobile device while driving.
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, driving while distracted killed 3,477 people in 2015 and injured an additional 391,000. The vast majority of those accidents occurred because the driver was using a cell phone.
While concern about accidents should be enough to deter drivers from engaging in this risky behavior, state legislatures are also adding financial penalties to distracted driving.
Here’s what you need to know about the financial and legal penalties for driving while distracted.
Distracted Driving and State Laws
With the exception of Arizona, Missouri, and Montana, all U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have instituted a ban on texting while driving for drivers of all ages.
Most states have made texting while driving a primary offense, which means law enforcement has the right to pull over an offender simply for violating the ban.
In states where the texting prohibition is a secondary offense for those over the age of 18, such as Florida, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota, the texting ban can only be enforced if the driver is also violating a primary offense. For example, if a driver fails to stop at a stop sign because she is distracted by her cell phone, the officer who pulls her over for failing to stop can also cite her for texting while driving.
The penalties for texting while driving vary from state to state. At one end of the spectrum are states like Virginia that charge a $20 fine for a first offense. On the other end are states like Alaska that can levy a maximum fine of $10,000, plus a maximum of 10 days in prison for a first offense. In between those extremes, drivers face financial penalties ranging from $30 to $750 and additional penalties that may range from demerit points on their licenses to jail time.
In every state with a texting ban, the penalty goes up with subsequent offenses. Drivers in states that assign moving violation points for texting while driving are more likely to see a negative effect on their auto insurance premiums.
Additionally, even if you yourself are not a distracted driver, other people’s distracted driving can affect your insurance premiums. One factor that can affect your auto insurance rates is the number and severity of crashes across the population of drivers in the country and in your state. To the extent that distracted driving contributes to an increase in accidents, other people’s distracted driving can cause your auto insurance rates to increase.
Teens and Distracted Driving
For a variety of reasons, you can expect to see increased premiums when you add teenagers to your auto insurance. One reason is that insurers recognize that teen drivers are the most likely to be distracted behind the wheel. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes.”
Distraction for teens does not necessarily come from their phones. In 15% of all teen distracted driver accidents, the distraction was talking to or interacting with a passenger in the car, whereas an electronic device was the distracting element in only 12% of such crashes. Another 11% were caused by distractions occurring inside of the vehicle such as eating while driving, reaching for objects or adjusting music and GPS settings.
The concern over distracted driving is one of the reasons why many states have instituted graduated driver’s licensing programs. These programs ease teens into the skills of driving, while placing hard limits on when and with whom teens are allowed to drive. States also impose harsher penalties on teens who drive while distracted to help deter distracted driving behavior.
Mitigating the Dangers of Distracted Driving
Safe drivers who want to keep themselves out of danger may wonder what they can do to reduce the problem of distracted driving.
To start, it’s important to understand which behaviors are most likely to distract you behind the wheel or cause accidents. This means that in addition to refraining from using your phone while driving (and pulling over if a passenger is distracting you), you also need to drive defensively, leave enough room between yourself and vehicles in front of you, check your blind spots, refrain from driving while fatigued or impaired, and wear your seat belt (and insist that your passengers are also properly secured).
For parents, modeling good driving behavior goes a long way to helping novice drivers learn safe habits. Parents need to set clear rules and expectations for teen drivers, and monitor their driving to make sure they are ready to take on the responsibility of getting behind the wheel.
Drivers of all ages can take advantage of Apple’s Do Not Disturb While Driving© feature that seeks to minimize distractions by muting the driver’s incoming calls, texts, and notifications. Both iPhone and Android devices can generate an auto-reply message to alert those calling or sending a text that you that you’ll be back in touch when it’s safe to do so.
Keeping Your Eyes on the Road
Distracted driving has always been a concern on the road, but the sheer number of potential distractions has increased with all the advances in mobile technology.
It starts with distractions like today’s more sophisticated stereo systems and the energy required to interact with the GPS. Mobile phones offer multiple ways to lose focus on your driving — whether it’s the need to use a hand-held device, concentrating on your conversation (even when you’re using a hands-free device), or the temptation to check (or send) a “quick” text.
To put the texting dangers into perspective, the NHTSA reports, “Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.” Probably not a choice you’d consciously make.
To be less distracted when you’re behind the wheel, it’s important to take some simple and reasonable precautions that will help keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and — perhaps most importantly — your mind focused on your driving.
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