Drunk Driving vs. Distracted Driving: Which is More Dangerous?


Plus: A list of each state's fines and penalties

drunk driving vs distracted driving accidents

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Drunk driving has long been a major cause of accidents on the road. Having a few drinks impairs our cognitive abilities, and getting behind the wheel in such a state could end in disaster.

As smartphones become more popular, however, another threat has reared its head: distracted driving. How often have you seen someone talking or texting on their cell phone while driving? Or maybe you’ve spotted someone eating fries or holding lipstick in one hand. Perhaps they have a backseat full of kids yelling and fighting, as well. There are plenty of things that can distract our eyes and minds from the road, and any one of them can do damage.

So when it comes to drunk driving vs. distracted driving, which is the more dangerous? Let’s take a look at some of the statistics and laws for both.

Effects on the Driver

Drunk Driving

Even if you’re not at the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of .08%, drinking any amount and then driving has a negative effect on your ability behind the wheel. At .02% BAC, drivers experience a decline in visual functions, such as rapid tracking of a moving target, as well as worsened ability to perform two tasks at the same time. Higher BAC levels result in a further decline of skills, including an inability to recognize turn signals, maintain lane position, and a delay in braking response.

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving has three components: visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel), and cognitive (taking your mind off of driving). This includes activities like eating, watching a movie, or even using an in-vehicle navigation system.

The most common form of distracted driving – texting while driving – combines all three components at once, much like driving while intoxicated does. Particularly troubling texts and phone calls may also cause a driver to become angrier or more depressed, causing additional distraction. Even for seemingly harmless messages, consider this: the average text takes about five seconds to send. Traveling at 55 mph, that’s like going the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.

Statistics: Drunk Driving vs Distracted Driving 

Casualties

Drunk Driving

  • 10,265 deaths in 2015
  • 290,000 injuries in 2015

Distracted Driving

  • 3,477 deaths in 2015
  • 391,000 injuries in 2015

Perpetrators

Drunk Driving

Distracted Driving

  • Drivers aged 16 to 24 are more likely to be distracted while driving.
  • Women are more likely to text and drive than men.

Timing & Frequency

Drunk Driving

  • Drunk driving accidents most commonly occur between midnight and 3 a.m.
  • Drunk driving crashes are more common during the weekend – between 6 p.m. on Friday and ending at 6 a.m. on Sunday.
  • In 2015, 28% of fatal nighttime crashes were due to drunk driving, compared to 15% during the week.
  • 42% of nighttime fatal accidents involved only one vehicle.
  • The most common BAC for fatal accidents is 0.14%, nearly twice the legal limit.
  • In a few rare occasions, a drunk driver has had a BAC of 0.45% in a fatal accident – almost 6 times the legal limit.

Distracted Driving

  • More than a quarter of distracted driving crashes from 2007 to 2015 occurred between 3 p.m. and 5:59 p.m. The next most common times are between 6 a.m. to 8:59 a.m. (18.8%) and 12 p.m. to 2:59 p.m. (17.1%).
  • Distracted driving crashes are most common on Friday (17.4%) and Thursday (15.9%).
  • 45.5% of distracted driving crashes during that timeframe occurred on dry roads, while 40.3% were during snowy or icy conditions.
  • At any given time, 660,000 people are using an electronic device while driving
  • 59% of crashes contained some type of distracting behavior in the 6 seconds leading up to the crash.

Driver texting at the wheel

So, What Are the Consequences?

Drunk Driving

The legal BAC limit for all 50 states is .08%. For commercial drivers, that limit is .04%. However, the penalties for DUIs and DWIs vary by state, previous offenses, and how far over the legal limit the driver is.

State-by-State Penalties for Drunk Driving 

State Jail Time Violation Fines & Fees Car Insurance Rate Increase License Suspension Ignition Interlock Device Required?
Alabama None $600 to $2,100 $716 90 Days No
Alaska Min. 72 hours $1,500 $568 Min. 90 days Yes
Arizona Min. 24 hours $250 base fine $1,477 90 to 360 days Yes
Arkansas 24 hours to 1 year $150 to $1,000 $850 6 months Yes
California 4 days to 6 months $1,400 to $2,600 $2,869 30 days to 10 months Yes, in some counties
Colorado Up to 1 year (DUI), or up to 180 days (DWAI) Up to $1,000 (DUI), or up to $500 (DWAI) $694 9 months (DUI), none for DWAI No
Connecticut 2 days up to 6 months $500 to $1,000 $1,668 1 year No
Washington DC Max. 6 months $500 to $1,1500 $1,016 1 to 2 years No
Delaware Max 90 days $300 to $1,100 $2,019 6 months No
Florida 6 to 9 months $500 to $2,000 $1,023 180 days to 1 year Yes
Georgia 24 hours to 1 year $300 to $1,000 $812 Up to 1 year No
Hawaii None $150 to $1,000 $2,388 90 days No
Idaho Up to 6 months Up to $1,000 $594 90 to 180 days No
Illinois Up to 1 year Up to $2,500 $1,535 Min. 1 year Yes
Indiana 60 days to 1 year $500 to $5,000 $380 Up to 2 years No
Iowa 48 hours up to 1 year $625 to $1,200 $599 180 days Yes, if BAC above .10
Kansas 48 hour min. $750 to $1,000 $512 30 days Yes
Kentucky None $600 to $2,100 $1,321 90 days No
Louisiana 2 days to 6 months $1,000 $694 90 days Possible
Maine 30 days $500 $563 90 days No
Maryland Up to 1 year (DUI); up to 2 months (DWI) Up to $1,000 (DUI); up to $500 (DWI) $309 Min 6 months (DUI & DWI) No
Massachusetts Up to 30 months $500 to $5,000 $961 1 year No
Michigan Up to 93 days From $100 to $500 $2,172 Up to 6 months Possible
Minnesota Up to 90 days $1,000 $892 Up to 90 days Yes
Mississippi Up to 48 hours $250 to $1,000 $787 90 days No
Missouri Up to 6 months Up to $500 $361 30 days Possible
Montana 2 days to 6 months $300 to $1,000 $535 6 months Possible
Nevada 7 to 60 days Up to $500 $655 Up to 60 days No
Nevada 2 days to 6 months $400 to $1,000 $775 90 days Possible
New Hampshire None $500 to $1,200 $757 6 months No
New Jersey Up to 30 days $250 to $500 $1,156 3 months to 1 year Possible
New Mexico Up to 90 days Up to $500 $771 Up to 1 year Yes
New York None $500 to $1,000 $1,150 6 months Yes
North Carolina 24 hours (for level 5 offender) (however, if 3 aggravated factors are present — Level 1A — minimum of 12 months) $200 (for level 5 offender) $2,770 60 days to 1 year No
North Dakota None $500 to $750 $677 91 to 180 days No
Ohio 3 days to 6 months $250 to $1,000 $511 6 months to 3 years No
Oklahoma 5 days to 1 year Up to $1,000 $1,022 30 days No
Oregon 2 days or 80 hours community services $1,000 to $6,250 $1,010 1 year Yes
Pennsylvania None $300 $894 No Yes, if refusal to take chemical test
Rhode Island Up to 1 year $100 to $500 $1,384 2 to 18 months No
South Carolina 48 hours to 90 days $400 to $1,000 $793 6 months No
South Dakota Up to 1 year $1,000 $1,009 30 days to 1 year No
Tennessee 48 hours up to 11 months $350 to $1,500 $743 1 year Yes
Texas 3 to 180 days Up to $2,000 $971 90 to 365 days No
Utah 48 hours min. $700 min. $494 120 days No
Vermont Up to 2 years Up to $750 $892 90 days No
Virginia Min. 5 days Min. $250 $722 1 year Yes, if BAC .15 or above
Washington 24 hours to 1 year $865.50 to $5,000 $658 90 days to 1 year Yes
West Virginia Up to 6 months $100 to $1,000 $1,022 15 to 45 days Possible
Wisconsin None $150 to $300 $420 6 to 9 months No
Wyoming Up to 6 months Up to $750 $709 90 days Yes, if BAC .15 or above

Sources: The Zebra State of Auto Insurance Report and drivinglaws.org

The penalties are usually pretty harsh, though. In California, for a first-time offense, a person may receive a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail. If the DUI offense ended in an injury, the person may be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. Vermont drunk drivers might receive up to two years in jail for a first time offense. In Oregon, a DUI can result in up to $6,250 in fines. Pennsylvania has the most lax laws for first-time offenders: up to $300 in fines, but no jail time and no suspended license.

Distracted Driving

While 46 states have complete bans on texting and driving, it’s often a minor offense in a court of law. Again using California as an example, first-time offenders pay a $20 fine. Each subsequent offense is punishable by a $50 fine.

Ironically, the state with the harshest drunk driving rules just may be the one with the fewest drivers. Texting or using an electronic device in Alaska can lead to a class A misdemeanor, which results a fine of up to $10,000 and up to one year in a county jail. That’s if the driver doesn’t injure somebody else. If a distracted driving crash leads to an injury or death of another person, the driver may be convicted of anywhere between a class C and class A felony – five to 20 years in prison and a fine of anywhere between $50,000 and $250,000.

Like drunk driving, the consequences of distracted driving can be huge. To learn more about distracted driving behaviors, click here.