The Potential Costs of Distracted Driving

Ping! Your cell phone rings. It takes just seconds to pick it up and read the text — really fast. But here’s the catch: You’re driving. Sending or receiving a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that’s like driving the whole length of a football field with your eyes closed.

Unfortunately, in 2017 alone, 3,166 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

NHTSA doesn’t limit “distracted driving” to just the use of a cell phone while driving. It’s any activity that diverts attention from driving. NHTSA says that could involve:

  • Talking on the phone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to people in your vehicle
  • Fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system
  • Anything that turns your attention away from safe driving

The most obvious danger of distracted driving? You can cause or receive serious bodily harm if you’re in an accident. There’s a lesser-known implication as well: Distracted driving incidents can also increase your insurance rates by as much as 41%.

The Zebra’s 2018 Distracted Driving Report showed that car insurance companies’ average insurance penalty has gone up nearly 8,000% since 2011. In fact, getting caught in a distracted driving incident can cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your annual premium.

Concerned about your insurance rates or your susceptibility to distracted driving? Here’s the breakdown of what distracted driving is, how to avoid it and how to deal with the impact it can have on your insurance rates and coverage.

The Reasons Your Car Insurance Rates Go Up

Texting while driving, careless driving, reckless driving and failure to stop are just a few reasons your car insurance rates could go up.

Texting While Driving

Texting while driving, also called texting and driving, is when a driver composes, sends or reads text messages, email or uses the internet on a mobile phone while operating a motor vehicle.

Forty-seven states (except for Arizona, Missouri and Montana) have banned texting while driving, but only 16 states have a ban on handheld devices for all drivers.

Seven states have “secondary” enforcement laws, which require law enforcement officers to have another reason to stop a vehicle before citing a driver for texting while driving.

Financial Implications: If you study different states’ fines, you’ll see that there are short-term and long-term repercussions for texting while driving, and if caught, tickets and fines vary widely by state.

For example, Minnesota law prohibits texting while driving, and violation of that law can result in up to a $300 fine. In Alabama, on the other hand, the very same law applies but fines are only $25 for a first offense, then $50 and $75 after that.

A ticket for distracted driving can affect you beyond just a ticket. A texting and driving ticket would have raised your car insurance rates by 0.2 % in 2011, about $3 per year. Now, the same violation will raise rates 16%, or about $226, a penalty increase of about 7,900%, according to the Zebra’s 2018 Distracted Driving Report. Some states’ insurance penalty is 41%; in others, it’s only 0.16%.

Check out the full list of distracted driving laws and penalties by state from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

Careless Driving

Careless driving, or driving without due caution, can relate to a broad range of traffic offenses and can include distracted driving. Offenses are referred to as careless driving because they’re dangerous for others.

Examples of careless driving include:

  • Speeding
  • Improper merging, drifting or failing to yield
  • Distracted driving
  • Not using proper signals
  • Disobeying traffic signs

Factors such as driver error, impairment, fatigue and distraction were present in almost 90% of crashes, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in 2016. Right-of-way errors, sudden or improper braking or stopping and unfamiliarity with a vehicle or roadway increased the risk of crashing.

Financial Implications: Careless driving, unless it is serious enough to ramp itself up to a reckless driving charge, usually results in a fine, citation and possibly driving school or community service.

You’ll generally pay lesser penalties for careless driving than for reckless driving, but careless driving can still have long-term consequences.

Careless driving can increase your auto insurance premium 16%, according to Insurance.com. Typically, the increase happens when your car insurance is renewed; an increase won’t take place immediately.

Reckless Driving

Reckless driving, a more serious offense than distracted or careless driving, involves a major moving violation and complete disregard for road rules. Reckless driving can result in a misdemeanor criminal offense or misdemeanor driving offense, depending on your state’s laws.

Examples of reckless driving include:

  • Excessive speeding
  • Disregard for traffic signals
  • Racing
  • Tailgating
  • Drunk driving
  • Illegal passing
  • Weaving in and out of traffic
  • Escaping from a police officer during a police-ordered stop

Financial Implications: In the short term, reckless driving can result in a variety of charges. The range can include a misdemeanor charge, reckless driving charge, probation, imprisonment, parole revocation, license suspension, fines or any combination of these charges. Various types of reckless driving incur different sentences and depend on their level of severity. Each state charges a different amount.

In the long-term, reckless driving increases your insurance rates an average of 22%. Specific negligent or reckless behaviors can specifically cost you an extra $433 for speeding 21-25 miles per hour over the speed limit, $490 for passing a school bus and $1,019 for causing an accident, according to Zebra’s Distracted Driving Report.

Failure to Stop

Failure to stop is the result of driving through a stop sign or failure to come to a complete stop. More than 800 people died in crashes that involved running a red light in 2016, an increase of 17% since 2012, an IIHS analysis indicated. Red light running results in more than half of pedestrian, bicyclist and people in other vehicles’ deaths.

Financial Implications: A failure to stop ticket will normally cost you between $75 and $400, depending on your state laws and your driving record, according to Nolo.com. There’s a chance your insurance premiums could also increase up to 15%, according to InsuranceQuotes.org.

Methods for Reducing Your Rates After an Incident

Involved in an accident and wondering what your insurer will do next? Fortunately, there are ways you can be proactive to make sure your rates don’t increase or have ways to reduce them.

  1. Tell your insurer about an accident, no matter how small. You might think that if you cause a small accident, you don’t need to report it, but what if the other party sues you? Your insurer may refuse to honor the insurance policy they’ve given you and increase your rates in the long run.
  2. Ask if your policy includes an accident forgiveness clause. An accident forgiveness clause means that your driving record isn’t affected by your insurance company’s rating system for an accident that’s your fault. It also ensures that it wouldn’t raise your insurance premium. There may be different requirements for an accident forgiveness clause, so it’s important to check with your insurance company.
  3. Shop around for a new policy. There’s no reason you have to stick with your current insurer. Compare insurance costs; you can easily get premium quotes online for many insurance companies.
  4. Increase your deductible. Your deductible is the amount you pay before your insurance pays the rest of a claim. You could raise your deductible in order to get a lower premium.
  5. Take advantage of other discounts. There may be some other discount options available to you. For example, you could just keep liability and no other coverage, such as comprehensive. You could also qualify for a discount if you drive less than 10,000 miles per year. You might also get a discount if you’ve been a long-time customer.
  6. Take a driving class. One of the best ways to prove your dedication to improved driving is to take a driving class. Your insurance company may take off some of the cost of your premium, though it won’t make a difference if you were caught driving recklessly or under the influence.

How to Prevent Distracted Driving

The best way to prevent distracted driving is to eliminate the leading causes of distracted driving:

  • Use your phone in an emergency situation only.
  • Pull over if you feel the slightest bit drowsy.
  • Limit the number of passengers and the level of activity in the car.
  • Avoid eating and multitasking while driving.
  • Take your time getting to your destination.
  • Don’t smoke while driving. Lighting a cigarette, smoking or tossing a butt can be a distraction.
  • Adjust car controls ahead of time. Fiddling with the air conditioning or position of the seat can be dangerous.
  • Paying attention to something outside the car can also be a distraction, such as a Corvette streaking past or a loose dog on the side of the road.
  • If you find that your mind is wandering or if you find yourself overly “lost in thought,” know that this can cause up to 62% of all fatalities, according to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which surveys all American motor vehicle fatalities.

Final Thoughts

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn’t limit the term “distracted driving” to just cell phone use. It’s any activity that turns your attention away from safe driving.

Car insurance companies’ average insurance penalty has gone up nearly 8,000% since 2011. A distracted driving incident may cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your annual premium.

The financial implications of an increased premium, coupled with the importance of keeping yourself and others safe while driving, are two excellent reasons to avoid a distracted driving incident.

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