Hands on steering wheel

Distracted driving is one of the most dangerous and common mistakes made by drivers. And with the continued rise in the use of handheld devices like cell phones behind the wheel, there are more distractions for drivers than ever before. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,522 people died in distracted driving crashes in 2021. This was eight percent of all traffic-related deaths that year.

The main cause of distracted driving accidents in the U.S. is, in fact, the use of cell phones. They're especially dangerous because they involve all three types of driver distraction:

  • Manual. Taking your hands off the steering wheel
  • Visual. Taking your eyes off the road
  • Cognitive. Taking your mind off the task of driving

Using a cell phone to read, send a text, make a call or use social media takes your hands, eyes and mind away from driving at the same time. This makes it very risky and increases the chances of a crash.

These distractions and the accidents they cause are a growing problem, especially with more than 220 million wireless service subscribers in the U.S. Among those, an estimated 80% have used their phones while behind the wheel, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. As a protection company, Nationwide is deeply focused on the growing problem of distracted driving incidents.

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89% of drivers support hands-free legislation

“We want to eradicate distracted driving,” said Nationwide Associated Vice President for Government Relations Chad Wilson. “We need America to have the same viewpoint with distracted driving as we do with someone driving drunk.”

Efforts to make that happen — mainly among those using smartphones while behind the wheel — have the attention of state lawmakers around the country. To date, handheld cellphone use while driving is banned in 27 states and 49 states have specific bans on texting while driving. Nationally, 44 states have some kind of distracted driving laws in place.

Such laws are major ways to help prevent distracted driving. And they’re in demand; a recent Nationwide survey showed 89% of drivers support legislation mandating hands-free use of cell phones for every driver.

We want to see primary hands-free laws in all 50 states

Moving forward, the goal is straightforward. “The remaining states should take inspiration from the progress in Ohio and other states where hands-free legislation is in effect. Since Ohio adopted its law last fall, we’ve seen a 25% decrease in fatal crashes during the 2023 holiday reporting period,” Wilson said. “We’ve also seen a 20% reduction as of late February compared to the previous year. While the specifics of such legislation may differ across states, having a law in every state will contribute to the decline in crashes and save lives.

“I am optimistic about the growing momentum and urge lawmakers in the remaining states to consider the bipartisan bill enacted in Ohio,” Wilson said. “Our aim is to establish hands-free laws across all 50 states.”

Given that momentum and the states currently debating hands-free laws, Wilson and others are hopeful it will happen. Nationwide P&C Public Policy Senior Consultant Brian Halaiko said that’s likely to happen in the next two years. While 24 states still lack hands-free legislation, 2024 and 2025 should see that change.

“We still have a ways to go. Right now, we’re looking at two or three states where there’s a good chance of legislation passing this year, with five to 10 more in the next couple of years,” Halaiko said. “I see that momentum continuing to build. We encourage constituents in their states to get in touch with their lawmakers to support their states’ bills so they become law.”

See if your state has a distracted driving or hands-free law on the books or legislation in the works. If not, contact your state lawmakers to advocate for such legislation.

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