The Many Costs of Distracted Driving

Published April 04, 2017
Account Executive
If you spend any time on the road, no one should have to tell you about the dangers posed by distracted drivers. You've seen them operating handheld devices while behind the wheel, observed their vehicles drifting into and out of neighboring lanes, perhaps witnessed one causing an accident — maybe even been the victim of a distracted driver yourself.
And now it appears a crash that killed 13 people in Texas last week was caused by a distracted driver. A witness to the crash told The Associated Press that the driver of a pickup truck that collided with a minibus carrying members of a church group confessed to texting at the time of the crash.
It was a cruel coincidence that the accident occurred two days before the start of the National Safety Council's Distracted Driving Awareness Month, an observance intended to prevent the kind of tragedy that took place in Texas.

Incidents, costs on the rise

According to the NSC, motor vehicle deaths rose 6% in 2016, while costs resulting from all motor-vehicle accidents totaled $432.5 billion. In a separate study, a recent study by a Massachusetts technology company determined that almost one in four drivers involved in a traffic accident was using a phone within a minute of the crash.
Here's what the NSC said in a recent release about the costs of distracted driving:Distracted driving infographic-284655-edited.jpg

With continued lower gasoline prices and an improving economy resulting in an estimated 3% increase in motor-vehicle mileage, the number of motor-vehicle deaths in 2016 totaled 40,200, up 6% from 2015 and the first time the annual fatality total has exceeded 40,000 since 2007. The 2016 estimate is provisional and may be revised when more data are available. The total for 2016 was up 14% from the 2014 figure. The annual total for 2015 was 37,757, a 7% increase from 2014. The 2014 figure was less than 0.5% higher than 2013. The estimated annual population death rate is 12.40 deaths per 100,000 population, an increase of 5% from the 2015 rate. The estimated annual mileage death rate is 1.25 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, an increase of 3% from the 2015 rate.

Medically consulted motor-vehicle injuries in 2016 are estimated to be about 4.6 million, an increase of 7% from 2015.

The estimated cost of motor-vehicle deaths, injuries, and property damage in 2016 was $432.5 billion, an increase of 12% from 2015. The costs include wage and productivity losses, medical expenses, administrative expenses, employer costs, and property damage. 

The NSC release doesn't specifically cite distracted driving because, as it says on its website, "Unfortunately, no breathalyzer-like test exists for cell phone use behind the wheel, and drivers in crashes are often reluctant to admit use. This creates a huge gap in the data."

But, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, the Massachusetts technology company Cambridge Mobile Telematics has succeeded in compiling data using applications designed to monitor driving habits for car insurance companies. In addition to determining that about one-quarter of all drivers involved in accidents were using a phone, Cambridge Mobile Telematics found that distracted driving in general occurred during 52 percent of trips resulting in a crash.

Employers taking action

Meanwhile, other companies have begun taking steps of their own to curb distracted driving and protect their workforce. The CEO of Owens Corning went 90 days without using a cell phone while driving before introducing a corporate policy banning all phone usage behind the wheel — handheld or hands-free — while conducting company business. (To view an infographic on the risks of hands-free phones, click on the image at right.)

"Leader-led practices are huge," Matt Schroder, Owens Corning's Internal Communications and Corporate Media Relations Leader, said in an interview with the NSC. "When the leaders are modeling the behavior, the results have a much greater chance of being positive. When a top leader on a phone call asks people if they are driving, or asks if they are in a safe place to participate in a call, that is how you move toward full compliance."

For employers who would like to emulate Owens Corning and other like-minded companies, the NSC offers a free cell phone policy kit, including: 

  • a sample policy
  • communications to build management support
  • an employee communications roll out calendar
  • answers to frequently asked questions
  • activities to build employee buy-in
  • posters
  • stories from families affected by crashes
  • a cognitive distraction white paper
  • a white paper on employer liability.

Dollars and sense

Individuals who could use help restricting cell-phone use — by themselves or by young drivers in the family — also have resources available to them. One company Sylvia Group works with to provide auto coverage, PURE, currently offers members a complementary Cellcontrol device (estimated value: $129), which prevents drivers from using a cell phone while their car is in motion.

Saving lives is the most important goal of any cell phone policy, but it doesn't hurt to remember that practicing safe driving techniques saves money in other ways, as well – by avoiding moving-vehicle violation penalties and unnecessary hikes on your premium.

Massachusetts' Safe Driving Law has been in effect since 2010, so it should be familiar by now, but all drivers could benefit from a refresher. Under the law:

  • It is illegal for all drivers in Massachusetts to use a mobile phone or other handheld device to compose, send or read electronic messages while behind the wheel – even while stopped at a red light or stop sign.
  • Drivers under 18 are prohibited from using cell phones, even with hands-free devices, at all.

If a driver is caught sending or reading a text message while driving, penalties include:

  • first offense – $100 fine
  • second offense – $250 fine
  • third and subsequent offense – $500 fine.

Drivers under 18 also face license suspensions for violations. 

If you are the parent of a teen driver, you should supplement your homeowners and auto insurance coverage with a Personal Umbrella policy. An umbrella policy protects you against damages that exceed your standard policies in the event you're ever sued, and they cover teen drivers on your auto policy.

To establish clear expectations, conditions and consequences with your teen driver, click the image below to obtain a free parent-teen driver agreement, courtesy of PURE.


About Jill White and Sylvia Group

Jill_White_cropped.jpgLicensed as a Massachusetts Producer for property and casualty, life, and accident and health insurance, and certified as a Construction Risk Insurance Specialist (CRIS) and Workers Compensation Advisor (CWCA), Jill White combines insurance training with knowledge gained from 15 years in the financial services industry to develop a thorough understanding of each client’s unique business needs and challenges. Devoted to protecting her clients, their businesses and everything they’ve worked hard to achieve, Jill conducts a full and thorough review of each business to ensure clients understand exactly what they’re paying for: which risks and exposures are covered, which aren’t and what gaps may exist. She then explores all available options and works with the client to design the insurance program that best fits the business’ strategic plans and goals.


Sylvia Group helps businesses and individuals protect their future by designing insurance, benefits and financial planning programs. We’re a locally owned agency known for our commitment to our clients and our community, as well for our industry expertise. Founded in New Bedford, MA, in 1950, headquartered in neighboring Dartmouth, and serving businesses and individuals throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island and beyond, Sylvia Group is certified as a Woman Owned Business Enterprise with the Massachusetts Supplier Diversity Office and has the distinction of being the first six-time recipient of the Five Star designation awarded by the Massachusetts Association of Insurance Agents (MAIA) for all-around agency excellence. 

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