How Distracted Driving Affects Car Insurance

Distracted driving is dangerous and can put yourself and others in harm’s way. Learn more about it and how it can impact your car insurance.
Man distracted by mobile phone while driving a car.

Distracted driving can put both yourself and others in danger. Over 3,000 people died because drivers didn’t pay attention in 2020, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Depending on your state, you can expect to at least pay a fine if you’re caught. You may also see a rise in your auto insurance rates.

This article will go in-depth on what distracted driving is and how it can affect your car insurance. We’ll discuss who’s most at risk to drive without paying attention, as well as how you can prevent it. You’ll also find out how to lower your auto rates if you’ve received a violation for being distracted behind the wheel.

What Is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving occurs anytime you look away from the wheel to do something that has nothing to do with operating your car. The most common example is using your phone while at the wheel. However, other actions such as eating and drinking or putting on makeup can also make it hard to focus while you’re driving.

These are the most common activities that distract drivers:

  • Texting or talking on a cell phone or mobile device
  • Using your car’s GPS navigation system
  • Eating or drinking
  • Applying makeup or doing your hair
  • Talking to other passengers
  • Smoking
  • Driving while you’re angry or sad

Texting or using a phone while driving is the most frequent. It’s also the most dangerous. The NHTSA points out that looking down at your phone to text someone or read a notification distracts you for about five seconds. In most cases, that’s enough time with your eyes off the road to miss critical action. A car could come into your lane, a light could change, or a person could enter the road. If you’re unaware of your surroundings, something terrible could easily happen.

Who’s Most at Risk?

Anyone could fall prey to distractions. But some groups are more prone to taking their eyes away from the wheel than others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), young people are at the highest risk of losing focus at the wheel. A 2019 CDC survey of high school students revealed that 39% of kids who drove in the past 30 days admitted to texting or checking their email while driving.

There are probably many reasons why young or new drivers carry the most risk of engaging in distracted behavior. But inexperience is the most likely. The CDC reports that, in 2019, a larger percentage of drivers aged 15 to 20 were distracted than those older than 21. Without years of driving, teens may think they have enough time to glance at their phones or talk to friends, not realizing how much can happen in just a few seconds.

The Effect on Your Car Insurance

A distracted driving violation could raise your auto insurance rates. However, it’ll depend on both your state and auto insurance company. Idaho and North Carolina have laws in place that prohibit insurers from raising rates due to texting while driving violations.

Typically, you can expect your rates to go up if your state classifies texting and driving as a moving violation. This is because it’ll go on your driving record and be visible to your insurance carrier. Depending on how your coverage provider treats these violations, your rates could increase.

The severity of the ticket or incident is another important factor. If you caused property damage or injury to another party and must file a claim, your insurance company may add a surcharge to your premium. Often, all it takes is one serious claim to raise your rates.

Telematics Programs May Raise Rates for Distracted Driving

Another way your rates can go up for distracted driving is through telematics or safe driving programs. Enrolling in one of these allows your insurer to track your driving habits and, possibly, award you a discount. However, some may increase your rates as a penalty for unsafe driving.

A common metric most providers’ programs track is how often you pick up your phone while driving. Depending on your company, your rates could go up if your telematics app or device detects cell phone use.

Distracted Driving Can Indirectly Raise Your Insurance Rates

Distracted driving could raise your auto rates indirectly, even if you’ve never received a ticket or been in an accident. Since driving without paying attention causes more accidents, people are likely to file more claims. This is especially the case in densely populated cities with lots of traffic and busy intersections.

One reason why insurers raise rates is the frequency of claims in specific geographical areas. This means that if distracted driving is more prevalent in your city, there’s a very good possibility you’ll pay more for car insurance.

How to Lower Your Auto Insurance Rates

You can take steps to lower your rates if they’ve gone up due to a violation. Here’s how to reduce your monthly car insurance premium:

  • Bundle your insurance. Most insurers will give you a discount if you bundle your auto coverage with another type of policy such as home or renters.
  • Take a defensive driving course. Taking a defensive driving course shows your provider that you take driving seriously and are less likely to be distracted behind the wheel. It can also get you a discount.
  • Own a safe vehicle. Several insurance companies offer discounts if you own a car with safety features like passive restraints or anti-lock brakes.
  • Move to another city. You’ll face higher rates if you live in a city with lots of drivers on the road. Moving somewhere where people are less likely to drive distracted and cause accidents can lower your rates.
  • Compare quotes. Another way to lower your rates is by gathering quotes from several insurers and comparing them. This allows you to see which company has the best deal on the market.

Distracted Driving Laws

Distracted driving laws depend greatly on where you live. However, these laws primarily revolve around using mobile devices behind the wheel.

Most states have primary enforcement laws restricting drivers from using handheld devices while driving. Others, however, have no law against it or might ban certain groups, such as bus drivers or those with learner’s permits, from using cell phones at the wheel.

48 out of 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C., have strict laws against texting and driving. In these states, an officer could pull you over and write you a ticket if they catch you typing on your phone. The only two states that don’t penalize handheld device use or texting while driving are Missouri and Montana. The exception is that Missouri still bans texting for drivers under the age of 21.

Penalties

Just as laws vary by state, so do penalties. If you’re a first-time violator of distracted driving laws, you must typically pay a fine. This amount can be anywhere from tens of dollars to hundreds. In Florida, for example, the penalty for using a phone or texting while driving is $30. On the other hand, in Alaska, you’ll face a minimum fine of $500.

The following table breaks down whether texting and driving is a primary or secondary offense in each state, as well as the fine you can expect for a first violation:

StateFine for First ViolationPrimary or Secondary Offense?
Alabama$25Primary
Alaska$500Primary
Arizona$75 to $149Primary
ArkansasUp to $250Primary
California$130Primary
Colorado$50 to $300Primary
Connecticut$200Primary
Delaware$100Primary
District of Columbia$100Primary
Florida$30Primary
GeorgiaUp to $50Primary
Hawaii$250Primary
Idaho$75Primary
Illinois$120 to $1,000Primary
IndianaUp to $500Primary
Iowa$100Primary
KansasUp to $250Primary
Kentucky$25Primary
Louisiana$175Primary
Maine$50Primary
Maryland$40Primary
Massachusetts$100Primary
Michigan$100Primary
Minnesota$120Primary
Mississippi$100Primary
Missouri$85 (drivers under 21 only)N/A
MontanaN/AN/A
Nebraska$200Secondary
Nevada$50Primary
New Hampshire$100Primary
New Jersey$200Primary
New Mexico$25Primary
New York$50 to $200Primary
North Carolina$100Primary
North Dakota$100Primary
Ohio$150Primary
Oklahoma$100Secondary
Oregon$130 to $1,000Primary
Pennsylvania$50Primary
Rhode IslandUp to $100Primary
South Carolina$25Primary
South Dakota$100Secondary
Tennessee$50 to $100Primary
Texas$25 to $99Primary
UtahUp to $100Primary
Vermont$100 to $200Primary
Virginia$125Primary
Washington$136Primary
West Virginia$100Primary
Wisconsin$20 to $400Primary
Wyoming$75 to $90Primary
Note: primary or second offense information is from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

The punishment for being distracted behind the wheel can get worse if injury, death, or property damage occurs. At times, it may be difficult to prove you were on your phone at the time of the crash. But if the police or another driver has enough evidence, you’ll encounter even more expensive fines and legal trouble.

Non-Legal Consequences

Perhaps the worst consequence of distracted driving is the harm or amount of damage it can cause. About nine people die each day in distracted driving-related accidents, per the CDC. This can include both pedestrians and other motorists. The bottom line is that when you take your eyes off the road, you can’t react as easily if something happens. This spikes the risk of an accident.

Best Ways to Prevent Distracted Driving

For the most part, distracted driving is easily preventable. Taking action to minimize it will help keep both yourself and others as safe as possible. Here are some ways you can prevent it:

  • Mute your phone. You can reduce the chance you’ll hear a notification and want to use your phone by muting it and putting it in your pocket.
  • Keep music at a lower volume. Music can distract you if it’s loud. Turning it down or avoiding wearing headphones might help you focus better. It may also allow you to hear emergency sirens.
  • Wait until later to eat. It can be tempting to pull into a drive-thru and eat in the car on the way to home or work. Try to resist the urge and eat once you get to your destination.
  • Don’t get in the car angry or upset. Emotions can impact your ability to drive safely. Ensuring you have a clear mind before getting in the car is better for everyone.
  • Ask the driver to pay attention to driving. It can be both scary and frustrating as a passenger if your driver isn’t paying attention. Try to tell them to keep their eyes on the road if you feel uncomfortable.
  • Use a hands-free device. These can be helpful if you need to use GPS or send a text, but don’t want to use your hands. Be careful, though. Hands-free tools, such as phone mounts, can be a distraction if you fiddle with them or look at them too long.

The above all share a common theme: it’s best to try not to do other things while operating a vehicle. The number one way to prevent becoming distracted is by not multi-tasking or shifting your attention while driving.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What’s the most dangerous kind of distracted driving?

A: Texting while driving is the most dangerous distraction behind the wheel. Looking down at your phone, even for just a couple of seconds, can cause you to miss crucial moments and can easily cause an accident.

Q: Will a ticket for texting and driving increase my auto insurance rates?

A: The short answer is that your rates might go up after a violation for driving distracted. Ultimately, it’ll depend on:

  • Whether your state allows it
  • How your state counts violations for handheld device use (i.e., moving violations add points to your record and can raise rates, while non-moving violations don’t go on your record and may not increase premiums)
  • How severe the incident was

Q: What does distracted driving mean?

A: Distracted driving is when you stop focusing on the road to do something else, such as check your phone, talk to someone, or even daydream. It can pose a serious risk to yourself and others and can heighten the risk of getting into a car wreck.

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