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Distracted Driving By State: Which States Are the Most Deadly?

Last Updated: 4/26/2022
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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) most recent data, 2,880 people died in distraction-related crashes in 2020. The toll of distracted driving deaths isn’t limited to loss of life; it can also mean more expensive auto insurance costs in places with high fatality rates.

MoneyGeek analyzed which states have the highest rates of distracted driving fatalities to find the places in the U.S. where distracted driving takes the biggest toll.

  • Distracted driving fatality rates increased 12% during the first year of the pandemic. In 2020, despite Americans driving 344,389 fewer miles than in 2019, distracted driving fatalities in the U.S. remained constant.
  • New Mexico had the highest rate of distracted driving fatalities for the third year in a row. It had twice the distracted driving fatality rate as Louisiana, the state with the second-highest rate.
  • Texas and California, the largest states, are on opposite ends of the list. Texas has one of the highest distracted driving fatality rates relative to miles driven (1.2 per billion miles driven), whereas California has one of the lowest (0.35 per billion).
  • North Carolina and Louisiana had the most significant increases in distracted driving fatalities from 2019 to 2020, despite fewer total miles driven due to the pandemic.

The States With the Highest Distracted Driving Rates

1. New Mexico

For the third year in a row, New Mexico has the dubious distinction of being the state with the highest rate of distracted driving fatalities relative to the miles traveled by car. Since 2014, New Mexico has banned texting or talking on the phone (with a hands-free device) while operating a vehicle. Violating this ban is a primary offense.

2. Louisiana

Louisiana had the second-highest increase in distracted driving fatalities of any state from 2019 to 2020. During this period, the state moved up three positions in our ranking. Texting and driving is a primary offense in Louisiana.

In addition to being one of the worst states for distracted driving, Louisiana is also one of the most expensive states for auto insurance. Because of this, finding cheap car insurance in Louisiana can be difficult; to find the best rate, it’s important that drivers compare car insurance costs from at least three providers to find the best rate available.

3. Kansas

Kansas ranked third-worst for its distracted driving fatality rate, moving down one position from 2019 to 2020. Kansas bans the use of handheld devices for drivers with their learner or provisional licenses and texting for all drivers. Violating these laws is a primary offense.

Distracted Driving Fatality Rate Increases, Despite COVID-19 Lockdowns

While total distracted driving fatalities in the U.S. remained relatively stable from 2019 to 2020, distracted driving fatality rates increased by 12%. This large increase came despite significant decreases in miles driven — 344,389 fewer — during COVID-19 lockdowns across the country. This spike comes on the heels of a nearly 10% decrease in the U.S.'s overall distracted driving fatality rate from 2018 to 2019.

Expert Insights: The Impact of Distracted Driving Laws on Fatalities

Laws alone may help prevent accidents, but experts suggest that a combination of laws, enforcement of those laws and public education are key to reducing distracted driving-related fatalities. To gain more insight into the impact distracted driving laws have on fatality rates, MoneyGeek consulted safety experts and advocates. The views expressed below are the opinions and insights of the individual contributors.

  1. What impact have distracted driving laws had on fatality rates?
  2. Distracted driving laws are on the books in many places that still have a lot of distracted driving fatalities. How can enforcement be improved?
Samantha Bloch
Samantha Bloch

Policy Analyst, Transportation Program, National Conference of State Legislatures

Joel Feldman
Joel Feldman

President Casey Feldman Foundation and EndDD.org

Pam Shadel Fischer
Pam Shadel Fischer

Senior Director of External Engagement at Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA)

Bill Jenkins
Bill Jenkins

Law Enforcement Liaison for the Vermont State Highway Safety Office

Joe Young
Joe Young

Director of Media Relations, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Distracted Driving Deaths by State: Full Data Set

The data points presented are defined as follows:

  • Rank: Rank in the overall analysis, with a lower rank indicating a higher overall distracted driving fatality rate.
  • Distracted Driving Fatality Rate (per Billion Miles): Distracted Driving Deaths 2019–2020 divided by 2019–2020 Miles Driven, multiplied by 1,000.
  • Distracted Driving Deaths 2019–2020: The number of distracted driving-related fatalities in the indicated state from 2019 to 2020.
  • 2019–2020 Miles Driven (Millions): The number of miles in millions driven in the indicated state from 2019 to 2020.
State
Rank
Distracted Driving Fatality Rate (per Billion Miles)
Distracted Driving Deaths 2019-20
2019-20 Miles Driven (Millions)

New Mexico

1

5.36

276

51,528

Louisiana

2

2.63

262

99,734

Kansas

3

2.45

146

59,697

Kentucky

4

2.03

195

95,946

Hawaii

5

1.97

39

19,809

Washington

6

1.69

196

116,188

Wyoming

7

1.60

32

20,008

Illinois

8

1.60

322

201,646

New Jersey

9

1.54

223

144,546

Idaho

10

1.38

49

35,464

Virginia

11

1.22

197

161,542

Oklahoma

12

1.21

105

86,648

Texas

13

1.21

665

548,809

Florida

14

1.18

514

434,590

Arizona

15

1.12

152

136,039

Montana

16

1.04

26

24,996

New York

17

0.98

223

226,463

North Carolina

18

0.92

210

228,817

Missouri

19

0.91

139

151,965

Alaska

20

0.89

10

11,187

North Dakota

21

0.86

16

18,594

Colorado

22

0.85

88

103,276

Tennessee

23

0.85

135

159,284

Vermont

24

0.82

11

13,353

Maine

25

0.82

23

27,957

South Carolina

26

0.82

92

111,911

Oregon

27

0.73

50

68,106

Alabama

28

0.72

100

139,656

Maryland

29

0.70

78

111,101

Nebraska

30

0.61

25

40,674

Pennsylvania

31

0.59

113

190,846

Delaware

32

0.59

11

18,590

Michigan

33

0.59

111

188,721

New Hampshire

34

0.54

14

25,784

Ohio

35

0.53

115

217,809

Arkansas

36

0.52

37

71,018

Massachusetts

37

0.52

62

119,017

Iowa

38

0.51

32

63,288

Minnesota

39

0.48

54

112,350

Indiana

40

0.46

74

159,327

Wisconsin

41

0.46

57

123,948

Utah

42

0.46

29

63,162

South Dakota

43

0.46

9

19,665

West Virginia

44

0.40

14

35,131

Georgia

45

0.39

98

249,095

California

46

0.35

223

640,648

Connecticut

47

0.34

21

61,446

Nevada

48

0.33

18

54,025

District of Columbia

49

0.29

2

6,786

Mississippi

50

0.28

23

80,756

Rhode Island

51

0.28

4

14,445

Methodology

MoneyGeek calculated the distracted driving fatality rate for each state by accessing distracted driving fatality information provided by NHTSA and combining that with state highway usage provided by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. We looked at trends across years and compared state fatality rates against the national average.

About the Author


expert-profile

Deb Gordon is author of The Health Care Consumer’s Manifesto (Praeger 2020), a book about shopping for health care, based on consumer research she conducted as a senior fellow in the Harvard Kennedy School’s Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government between 2017 and 2019. Her research and writing have been published in JAMA Network Open, the Harvard Business Review blog, USA Today, RealClear Politics, TheHill, and Managed Care Magazine. Deb previously held health care executive roles in health insurance and health care technology services. Deb is an Aspen Institute Health Innovators Fellow, and an Eisenhower Fellow, for which she traveled to Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore to explore the role of consumers in high-performing health systems. She was a 2011 Boston Business Journal 40-under-40 honoree, and a volunteer in MIT’s Delta V start-up accelerator, the Fierce Healthcare Innovation Awards, and in various mentorship programs. She earned a BA in bioethics from Brown University, and an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School.


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