How many casualties are caused by distraction in traffic?



The exact number of road casualties among distracted drivers is unknown. Dutch police do not systematically register whether a driver was distracted prior to a crash. It was previously estimated that, for car crashes in the Netherlands, the annual number at least amounts to several dozens of fatalities, with an upper limit of well over a hundred [7]. This estimate, however, is based on somewhat older and primarily foreign studies. There are no recent estimates based on Dutch studies. American 2017 crash figures indicate that distraction was involved in 9% of the registered fatalities in motor vehicle crashes, and that 6% of the drivers involved in fatal crashes were distracted [8]. Some of these fatal crashes involved two or more distracted drivers. The percentages are based on statements of the parties concerned (and witnesses) and are therefore probably underestimates of the actual percentages.


Concerning cyclists, the only Dutch data available are self-reported data about road crashes in which distraction might have played a part. Two earlier Dutch studies (dating from 2008 and 2009) indicated that phone use preceded 3 to 4 % of all injury crashes involving cyclists [9] [10]. For these crashes, listening to music was mentioned just as often: 3.5 to 5 %. In more recent Dutch research [11] 19% of the casualties of bicycle crashes treated at accident & emergency departments indicated that the crash was (partly) caused by their distraction. Talking to someone was mentioned in 4% of the cases as contributing to the crash and being deep in thought in 2% of the cases. Notably, telephone use was deemed to be a (concurrent) crash factor in fewer than 1% of the cases in this study. We would rather expect the percentage of bicycle crashes caused by telephone use to be higher, when compared to earlier studies, since a lot more cyclists send text messages or operate their telephone screens nowadays [12]. After all, these activities belong to the category of most dangerous forms of distraction (also see the question How dangerous is it when drivers are distracted in traffic? and the question How does distraction affect cyclist and pedestrian behaviour?).


For the Netherlands, no data are available about the number of pedestrian injuries or fatalities as a consequence of distraction while walking. In the United States, the percentage of pedestrians who die in a road crash while using a phone rose from less than 1% in 2004 to 3.6% in 2010[13].

Part of fact sheet

Distraction in traffic

The mobile phone is symbolic of ‘distraction in traffic’.

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