Modified: January 19, 2023

Deadly Road Hazards: What Is More Dangerous, DUI or Texting and Driving?

Drunk and distracted driving claims thousands of victims each year in the United States in deadly motor vehicle accidents. Even though many drivers are aware of the dangers of drunk driving and distracted driving, accidents still occur, and recent statistics show a climb in the number of motor vehicle fatalities.

Ehline Law and our personal injury attorneys have worked with thousands of injured victims. We have seen firsthand the pain and trauma injured victims and surviving family members go through following an accident. Although distracted driving and drunk driving both have serious consequences, there is a debate over what is more dangerous.

Let’s find out which one is more dangerous!

Distracted Driving Vs. Drunk Driving: Which Is More Common?

It is challenging to determine how often people drive drunk or distracted, but we can analyze other factors that may give us an idea of what is more common: drunk driving or distracted driving incidents.

There are three types of distracted driving:

  • Manual distraction: This type involves taking your hands off the wheel.
  • Visual distraction: This includes taking your eyes off the road.
  • Cognitive distraction: This type of distraction during driving involves a wandering mind.

Some examples of distracted driving include texting while driving, eating behind the wheel, talking over cell phones, and looking at everything else but the road. According to TeenDriversSource, 42% of high school students admitted to checking their cell phones, texting while driving, or sending emails while behind the wheel.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that at least 10% of the driving time, drivers are often distracted by their phones.

The Zebra conducted a survey in 2023 reaching out to American drivers to understand their behavior behind the wheel.

Many admitted to engaging in certain activities while driving, including the following:

  • Eating (52.5%)
  • Texting while driving (23.6%)
  • Taking pictures (11.7%)
  • Applying makeup (6.5%)
  • Drinking while driving (3.4%.)

So, which is more common: distracted driving or drunk driving? 51% of survey participants stated that they are more distracted on the road today than five years ago. Besides more distractions, 30% of Americans are non-drinkers and do not partake in the country’s heavy drinking culture (Source: National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions).

All of these statistics suggest that there are more distracted drivers in the United States than drunk drivers.

Distracted Driving Vs. Drunk Driving: Which Is More Deadly?

Research suggests that texting while driving slows down driver’s reactions by 35%, much more than drunk driving, which slows down reactions by 12%. NHTSA reports that texting while driving takes the driver’s eyes off the road by 4.6 seconds, enough to cover the entire football field while traveling at 55 mph. Texting while driving has now become a leading cause of death among teenage drivers in the United States.

Even though distracted driving reduces driver reaction much more than drunk driving, accidents are still not as deadly as drunk driving accidents. 

To determine whether drunk driving leads to more fatal crashes than distracted driving or vice versa, it’s critical to analyze crash statistics.

According to the NHTSA, there were 38,824 motor vehicle fatalities in the United States, and 3,142 deaths involved distracted drivers. That’s approximately 8% of the country’s motor vehicle traffic fatalities.

On the other hand, the same government agency, NHTSA, reported 11,654 deaths involving drunk driving during the same period, a staggering 30% of all motor vehicle fatalities in the United States.

Comparing the two, there is a consensus that drunk driving is more dangerous than distracted driving. Drinking alcohol or consuming drugs before driving impairs an individual’s motor and cognitive skills, which can lead to reckless and high-speed driving. Drunk drivers often believe they have control over their wheels, and that confidence is what leads to serious motor vehicle accidents.

Many distracted drivers end up in rear-end collisions or minor fender benders as they often check their phones or face other distractions during stop-and-go traffic.

A survey conducted by Aceable, a drivers ed, and defensive driving school, revealed the following insights on distracted driving:

  • 88% of the respondents agreed to use their phones when at a stop sign or red light.
  • 69% of the respondents admitted using their phones when stuck in stop-and-go traffic.
  • 63% of the respondents admitted to checking their phones during slow-moving traffic.

Despite all the measures and awareness created by the government on the dangers of distracted driving, the fatality rate remains stagnant, with more than 3,000 fatalities per year, suggesting that drivers are more dependent on smartphones.

Are State Laws Addressing Distracted Driving and Drunk Driving?

Although there are many motor vehicle fatalities due to distracted and drunk driving, state laws are in place that penalizes such activities. All 50 states have laws in place against drunk driving. Many states require drivers to have a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit of less than 0.08 if law enforcement officers stop them during a routine check. The BAC limit is much less in Utah (0.05).

States cannot enact legislation that prevents drivers from being distracted as they have done for drunk drivers. However, they can introduce and implement laws that make it a misdemeanor offense to use a cell phone while driving.

All states except Montana have laws that prohibit drivers from using their cell phones while behind the wheel. Six states have laws that partially prohibit drivers from using hand-held devices.

Are Some States Worse than Others When It Comes to Distracted Driving or Drunk Driving?

There are two crucial factors that determine drunk driving and distracted driving in states, and these include the following:

  • Less traffic: In areas with less traffic, drivers tend to be more reckless. We saw how motor vehicle fatalities rose during the Covid-19 lockdown, as empty roads gave drivers an opportunity to speed, violate traffic laws, and drive recklessly.
  • Lack of public transportation: In areas with a lack of public transportation or ride-sharing options, there is a higher risk of drunk driving or distracted driving. When the government provides public transportation, people are more inclined to use them rather than driving their own vehicle, reducing the risk of accidents. Lack of public transportation or ride-sharing options means driving your vehicle home after a few drinks at the bar.

According to Insurify, an American insurance comparison shopping website, the following are the top five states with the most percentage of drivers with DUI:

  • North Dakota – 5.17%
  • Wyoming – 5.16%
  • South Dakota – 4.57%
  • Wisconsin – 4.33%
  • Alaska – 4.11%.

In North Dakota, one in four adults reported drinking excessively, the highest in the country. Many experts believe that the relatively lenient penalties for DUI promote heavy drinking in the state.

Protect Your Case by Following These Steps

It’s best to avoid distracted driving or drinking while behind the wheel to prevent harm to yourself and others. However, even if you’re driving responsibly and following traffic rules, others may not, which can result in a devastating accident.

Injuries from an accident can lead to physical and mental pain. They can also affect an individual’s financial status, which is why it is crucial to take the right steps following an accident to protect your personal injury case.

We recommend all injured victims follow the steps below to increase their chances of recovering compensation:

  • Report the accident to law enforcement authorities (911) and request emergency help if needed.
  • Stay at the accident scene and ask the other driver for contact and insurance information.
  • Take photographs and videos of the accident scene, the vehicles involved, injuries sustained, road markings, and nearby traffic or warning signs.
  • Speak to witnesses and request their contact details.
  • Seek medical attention immediately.
  • Contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your legal options.

Schedule a Free Consultation with Ehline Law

Ehline Law and our personal injury attorneys have over 15 years of experience and a superior track record, with more than $150 million in compensation recovered for our injured clients. If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a car accident due to another’s fault, contact us at (833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation, as you may be able to seek compensation.

Top Notch American Injury Lawyer, Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline

Michael is a managing partner at the nationwide Ehline Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He’s an inactive Marine and became a lawyer in the California State Bar Law Office Study Program, later receiving his J.D. from UWLA School of Law. Michael has won some of the world’s largest motorcycle accident settlements.

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