About 70% of licensed drivers used a mobile device while driving for personal reasons in the past three months, according to newly released survey results, as the U.S. saw more than 3,100 distracted driving-related fatalities in 2020.
Urban and suburban drivers were more likely to have used their mobile phones than drivers from rural areas for all reasons studied.
The survey of nearly 2,000 licensed drivers in the U.S. was conducted by market research and consulting firm The Harris Poll on behalf of Selective Insurance and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. Traffic deaths have soared in recent years, with 38,824 fatalities recorded in 2020 alone, the highest total since 2007.
One-fifth of those deaths were among pedestrians, cyclists and other non-vehicle occupants. That share is on the rise; in 2011, that figure was closer to one in six.
"Distracted driving has become a plague on our roads," said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, in a statement. The organization urges states to enact laws prohibiting device use while driving, banning texting, hand-held use and all device use by young drivers.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 24 states and Washington, D.C., ban handheld cellphone use, while 48 states and the district ban texting while driving. No state completely bans cellphone use for all drivers.
The GHSA said this week it will release a report this summer looking at distracted driving challenges and identifying actions states can take to address them. With funding from General Motors, the GHSA will also offer competitive grants to State Highway Safety Offices to help them implement the recommended actions.
“This unique collaboration will shine a light on this problem and help advance one of the core principles outlined in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Roadway Safety Strategy," said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins in a press release.
The Harris Poll survey found that cellphone use was even higher among drivers whose jobs include driving responsibilities: 86% of those drivers talked, texted, checked social media, used video functions, took a photo, reviewed documents or used email.
Mobile device use was highest among the 18 to 34 and 35 to 44 age groups in the survey. Nearly half of those 18- to 34-year-olds report that they either know someone affected or have personally been involved in a crash involving a driver using a mobile device.
Chase said that Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety also wants the U.S. Department of Transportation to require advanced driver assistance systems in all new vehicles, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and bicyclist detection. "Technology that detects an imminent collision, warns the driver, and applies the brakes if necessary, has the potential to prevent distraction-involved crashes as well as those involving impaired and drowsy driving, and speeding," she said.