How Distracted Driving Can Affect Your Insurance
Published: February 8, 2019
Updated: January 3, 2022
Courtesy of The Hartford, by Emily Guy Birken
Most drivers are aware of the dangers of driving while distracted. However, something that many drivers don’t realize is that in addition to the legal ramifications, these distractions can affect the premiums you pay for your auto insurance.
Any number of things can distract a driver from the road including eating, adjusting the sound system or talking to people in your vehicle. However, the distraction that often has the biggest and most dangerous impact is using a cell phone or other mobile device while driving. That’s why it’s great to look into cars equipped with hands free devices while driving like Bluetooth.
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, driving while distracted killed 3,142 people in 2019. 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 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 people 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 and Ohio, 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. They also face 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 could cause your auto insurance rates to increase.
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, 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
- Wear your seat belt and insist that your passengers are also properly secured
Using Technology to Be a Safer Driver
Though cell phones may be behind the majority of distracted driving incidents, mobile technology can also help to reduce distractions and reward you for safe driving.
For example, 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’ll be back in touch when it’s safe to do so.
In addition, telematics technology can measure your driving habits via a free mobile app that can be downloaded to any smart phone. While you are driving, the app will run passively in the background, using sensors that are already in your phone, such as GPS, accelerometer and gyroscope.
Since this technology is app-based, rather than a tracker installed in a specific car, it will track your driving anytime you get behind the wheel, even if you are driving someone else’s car. This means you will also have to alert the app anytime you are a passenger, or traveling by bicycle, bus, train or other form of transportation to ensure only your driving habits are measured. These measurements can help you understand when and how you drive.
Telematics apps measure things like:
- The time of day you drive
- Your speed
- Instances of hard braking
- Distance traveled
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.
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. Even instances like drowsy driving or aggressive driving can be a distraction.
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.
But even though new technology can be a distraction behind the wheel, it can also offer solutions to the problems of distracted driving. Taking advantage of do not disturb options on your phone and telematics tracking apps can give you the tools you need to help keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel and — perhaps most importantly — your mind focused on your driving.