Distracted driving: penalties, crash rates, and the tech behind it all

5 min read
This August, IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) introduced the results of a massive study exploring how the severity of the laws banning the phones behind the wheel affects the rate of the crashes caused by distracted driving.

We at HUDWAY have been closely following this subject, since the main concept of our products has always been to take the cellphone out of the driver’s hands, lessen their eyes-off-road time and promote phone-free driving as an informed voluntary choice.

Let’s see whether mandatory banning initiatives have shown any effect.

IIHS study key points

In 2017, California, Oregon, and Washington broadened the laws restricting the use of cell phones behind the wheel.

Ever since, the hands-free systems that minimize manual input have become the only legal way for the drivers to interact with their phones in these states.
In 2022, talking on the phone while driving without a hands-free system is banned in the vast majority of states. Image source: IIHS.
Furthermore, Oregon and Washington explicitly banned drivers from both using and holding the phone, including when the vehicle is idling at the traffic lights or in a traffic jam — while the authorities in California have provided no specific guidance on whether the phone can be used or held without actually using it during momentary stops.

Interestingly, the study focused on exploring the changes in the rear-end crashes rate, as it is this type of crashes that is most often provoked by distracted driving.

Here are the actual figures:
Based on these findings, IIHS suggests that it’s the clarity and unambiguity of the adopted laws that contributes to the drop in the crash rates.

The intelligible wording benefits both sides: the drivers know what exact types of behavior is banned, while the officers can be sure that the tickets issued for the violations of the clear cut provisions will less likely be dismissed in court.

We also agree with IIHS’s point on the fine amount having a prominent impact on the driver’s behavior.

For example, the fine amount for the first violation in Oregon is more than 10 times higher than that in California, which explains the downtrend for the former.

What about other states?

We decided to look beyond the states explored by the study and research how the crash rate corresponds with the fine amount across the US.

Based on the public data, we got the following view:
More details about the fines by state:
The data shows that the states seeing the highest across the country rate of fatal crashes per 100,000 people would practice lower than average penalties.

It’s not that straightforward, though: California, Iowa, or Pennsylvania all witness fewer fatal crashes than average despite the fine amount being comparatively low.

All in all, increasing the fine amount for driving violations can be efficient to drop the crash rate, but only when paired with clear wording of the laws, overall road safety enhancement — and, last but not the least, introducing the vehicle technologies that are affordable and easy to adopt to the drivers.

What are drivers saying?

The respondents to the Quora threads asking what fine amounts are fair for texting and driving are straightforward and almost equanimous: the penalty should be as high as to make the driver think twice before picking up their phone while driving — from thousands of dollars in fines, to driving license loss, or jail sentence.
Furthermore, they vote for zero tolerance to the offenders and equalize the danger of distracted driving to that of driving under the influence.
A notable thing one respondent shared is that distracted drivers are a threat to road safety both in high-speed and slow traffic — the latter makes them feel more relaxed and even less concentrated, and as such they go completely unpredictable when maneuvering.
There are other opinions, of course — arguing the efficiency of law-enforced behavior as opposed to individual reason and common sense. And these require non-violent education, if you ask us.
We stand with the Quora respondents on one thing: be it tech, laws, or education — there should be more means used to reduce distracted driving and its casualties.

How HUDWAY solutions help reduce distracted driving

While new vehicles are extensively seeing hands-free multimedia systems helping to reduce drivers’ interaction with their phones, there’s still a huge amount of vehicles (mostly those released before 2010) lacking any hands-free interface.
2010 Toyota Corolla without hands-free system. Image source: MotorTrend.
This is where an aftermarket solution like ours helps bridge the gap.

The idea of HUDWAY Drive heads-up display is somewhat similar to that of CarPlay or Android Auto: cutting driver’s interaction with a smartphone by migrating its most wanted functionality and meticulously adapting it to the vehicle dash to reduce eyes-off-road time.
Android Auto interface. Image Source: BMWBLOG.
The Drive is made primarily for navigation — but it displays vehicle data (using OBD-II), too, as well as incoming calls and messages.

These latter two are arguably inducing safety (that’s why they’re an option you can disable), but we made them available on purpose.

Rather than picking up the phone or checking the smartwatch, the driver instantly knows whether it’s something important — while keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.
HUDWAY Drive in 2013 Ford Fusion
We made the Drive based largely on the feedback and experience shared by our customers. If you have any suggestions on how we can better it — please let us know.

You can get a closer look at HUDWAY Drive here. There is detailed information about the functions, features and installation in the car.

Keep your eyes on the road and stay safe.