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Analysis: Virginia Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is an extremely dangerous behavior that has grown exponentially throughout the United States. Everyone knows that distracted driving is dangerous, but many people continue to engage in activities that take their attention away from the road.

Through our work, Christina Pendleton & Associates has seen the devastating outcomes of distracted driving firsthand. As a result, we wanted to see where, when, why and how distracted driving collisions occur in Virginia. With the help of 1 Point 21 Interactive, we analyzed over 740,000 VDOT crash records from 2011 to 2016. Here are the results:

Map: All Virginia Distracted Driving Collisions 2011-2016

Our Distracted Driving Analysis at a Glance

These are the basic facts about distracted driving in Virginia. These statistics will give you an overview of what a serious issue this is in this state:

  • From 2011 to 2016, distracted drivers in Virginia caused 163,032 crashes, killing 951 people and injuring another 94,196.
  • Intersections: You are much more likely to be hit by a distracted driver in an intersection than anywhere else on the road. Over 78 percent of all distracted driving collisions (127,434) and nearly 75 percent of all fatalities (713) occurred at an intersection.
  • Pedestrians bear a disproportionate amount of fatalities: Pedestrian collisions accounted for nearly 10 percent of all distracted driving fatalities (94) while only accounting for just over one percent of total crashes (1,675).
  • Rural vs. Urban: While the vast majority of collisions (77 percent) occurred in urban areas, 52 percent of fatalities (501) occurred in rural areas.
  • People of all ages drive distracted: Only 21 percent of total crashes were attributed to young drivers (34,679) aged 15-20.
  • Distraction & Drinking: Over 24 percent of distracted driving fatalities (231) also involved alcohol.

How Is Distracted Driving Defined?

According to the Virginia DMV, there are three kinds of distracted driving: manual, visual, and cognitive. Visual distractions take your eyes off the road. Manual distractions take your hands off the wheel. Cognitive distractions take your mind away from driving.

There is no combination of laws that could cover all kinds of distractions during driving, but there are certain things that are more distracting than others that are unlawful. As of 2021, Virginia prohibits holding cell phones or wireless devices while driving except in an emergency or when parked.

One of the most unsafe driving behaviors is texting while driving. This combines all three kinds of distracted driving. Your eyes are on the device, at least one hand is off the wheel, and your mind is focused on the text. We encourage you to never text while driving.

When Are You Most Likely to Be Involved in a Distracted Driving Crash in Virginia?

While distracted driving collisions can occur anywhere, in Virginia, you are most likely to be involved in a collision on Friday between 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. and you are most likely to be killed in a distracted driving collision on Saturday morning between 12 a.m – 3 a.m.

All Crashes vs Fatal Crashes by Time and Day

Distracted Driving by Month

The highest number of distracted driving collisions occurred in October (15,243), May (14,860), and June (14,390). Interestingly, the most injury crashes and the second most fatal crashes also occurred in May, just one month after Distracted Driving Awareness month. January and February had – by far – the least overall crashes as well as fatal and injury crashes.

Examples of Distracted Driving

Even some basic things all drivers do can technically qualify as distracted driving, like adjusting the radio station or changing the temperature in the car. Car manufacturers put these controls in easy reach to help reduce distraction, sometimes even on the steering wheel.

However, certain kinds of distracted driving are far more distracting. Some examples include:

  • Using electronic devices while driving
  • Eating or drinking while driving
  • Grooming yourself while driving
  • Applying makeup while driving
  • Taking your eyes off the road to talk to a passenger
  • Arguing in the car

If you contemplate the three types of distractions, you will come up with other things you might do in the car that could be distracted driving. If you do any of these things, be mindful and try to do them less often. 

How Do People Die in Virginia Distracted Driving Collisions?

From 2011 to 2016, there were 875 fatal crashes linked to distracted driving in Virginia, claiming the lives of 951 people.

Fatal Distracted Driving Collisions in Virginia 2011-2016

Map: Fatal Distracted Driving Collisions 2011-2016

What do distracted drivers hit in these fatal crashes? Other motor vehicles, trees and pedestrians were the most prevalent, but here are the 20 objects (well, 19 objects and one class of road user – pedestrians) that kill people in distracted driving crashes.

Distracted Driving Collision Outcomes for Virginia’s Largest Cities

Which Cities Have the Biggest Problem with Distracted Driving?
Virginia Distracted Driving Accidents

Obviously, when looking at raw numbers, larger cities will likely have more overall collisions caused by distracted driving. However, when you adjust for population, the results are quite different.



*All rates expressed per 100,000 population

Through this lens, several smaller cities, such as Fredericksburg, Petersburg, and Salem appear to have significant issues overall with distracted driving. However, distracted driving is leading to fatal collisions at a much higher rate in Newport News, Suffolk, and Danville.

Don’t Drive Distracted – Tips for Prevention

While driver distraction can take many forms, the growing use of smartphones is likely the driving force behind the epidemic. According to The Wireless Association, the reported number of annual multimedia messages has increased by over 400 percent since 2010, while the volume of annual wireless data usage has grown by over 2000 percent. 

The NHTSA estimates that nearly 660,000 drivers use their phone while driving each day during daylight hours. With these numbers in mind, it’s up to everyone to curb distracted driving behaviors and make our roads safer for everyone.

  • If an activity or object prevents you from devoting your full attention to driving, then it is a distraction.  
  • Avoid eating while driving. Snack before or after you get into the car.
  • Finish dressing or grooming BEFORE you get on the road. Don’t wait until you are behind the wheel to fix your hair or makeup just to save a little time. Arriving alive is a lot better than arriving late.  
  • Silence notifications from your phone that may tempt you to pick it up and check it. Turn off the ringer, silence text and app notifications, and resist the urge to use your phone anytime you are behind the wheel.
  • If you still find yourself checking your phone, consider downloading apps or software that will help prevent you from doing so. There are several apps that can block incoming text messages or send auto responses to contacts.
  • Avoid heated discussions or arguments while driving.  
  • Set GPS coordinates or direction information before you start moving or have a passenger do it.
  • Consider taking the NHTSA pledge to avoid distracted driving pledge.
  • If you need to use the phone or engage in any other activity, pull over to a safe location first.

Were You Hit by a Distracted Driver?

If you are ever hit by a driver due to their distraction, that is a straightforward case of negligence. If we can prove their negligence to an insurance adjuster or a court, you could be eligible for compensation. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you in this circumstance.