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How risky is distracted driving?


  • J. Bradley Karl

    (Florida State University)

  • Charles M. Nyce

    (Florida State University)

  • Lawrence Powell

    (University of Alabama)

  • Boyi Zhuang

    (University of Alabama)


We use data on fatal crashes to quantify the risk of distracted driving. We repurpose, extend, and improve a methodology used to estimate the riskiness of drinking drivers (Levitt & Porter, 2001). Our analysis suggests that distracted drivers are three times more likely to cause a fatal crash than focused drivers. We also estimate that distracted drivers represent three to four percent of drivers on the road at any given time. Further, we find that distractions associated with cellphone use are less likely to cause a fatal crash than are distractions from other sources. The externality costs between $0.02 and $0.05 per mile driven. The insurance surcharge for a distracted driving citation that could internalize the avoidable insurance losses is approximately $577 per year. Our work extends the literature on distracted driving and traffic fatalities. We believe our results can inform policymakers on the traffic-safety and economic consequences of distracted driving.

Suggested Citation

  • J. Bradley Karl & Charles M. Nyce & Lawrence Powell & Boyi Zhuang, 2023. "How risky is distracted driving?," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 66(3), pages 279-312, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jrisku:v:66:y:2023:i:3:d:10.1007_s11166-023-09405-3
    DOI: 10.1007/s11166-023-09405-3

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Saurabh Bhargava & Vikram S. Pathania, 2013. "Driving under the (Cellular) Influence," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 5(3), pages 92-125, August.
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    6. J. Bradley Karl & Charles Nyce, 2020. "The Effect of Distracted Driving Laws on Automobile Liability Insurance Claims," North American Actuarial Journal, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 24(4), pages 593-610, October.
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    9. Steven D. Levitt & Jack Porter, 2001. "How Dangerous Are Drinking Drivers?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(6), pages 1198-1237, December.
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    More about this item


    Distracted driving; Automobile safety; Statistics;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C10 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - General
    • G22 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Insurance; Insurance Companies; Actuarial Studies
    • R41 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Transportation Economics - - - Transportation: Demand, Supply, and Congestion; Travel Time; Safety and Accidents; Transportation Noise


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