What to Do If You See a Distracted Driver

By Colin Bird  on July 27, 2012


Texting and other electronic usage cause up to 25% of all car crashes, according to a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit group working to improve traffic safety. Put another way, nearly 5,500 vehicular-related deaths can be attributed to distracted driving, such as texting, according to a 2009 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

Drivers who text while behind the wheel are 23 times more likely to be involved in a car crash, according to Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. So if you're on the road, it's best to know the warning signs of a potential texting driver.

Texting, or using your smartphone in general, while driving is a form of distracted driving. As such, many of the warning signs of a texter are the same as those of drunken or fatigued drivers. Experts, mostly police officers, told USA Today that those warning signs include: 

  • Drivers going much faster than the speed limit or flow of traffic 
  • Drivers going much slower than the speed limit or flow of traffic 
  • Drivers who needlessly change speed 
  • Drivers who stop longer than needed at a traffic light or traffic sign 
  • Drivers who weave through traffic 
  • Drivers who can't maintain lane position

If you witness any of the following behavior from a driver that you're sharing the road with, the experts suggest the following actions:

  • Assume that the distracted driver doesn't see your vehicle at all  
  • Give the distracted driver a wide berth 
  • Try to pull ahead of the distracted driver, or slow down and let them pull ahead  
  • If you can't get away from the distracted driver, call 911 and report your concern 
  • When calling 911, report behavior of the driver, not just that the driver is texting 
  • Do not resort to vigilantism — always involve the police

Texting while driving is now illegal in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Even so, there's increasing evidence that the bans are ineffective from curtailing texting while driving and could even increase the risk to other drivers as texters try to hide their actions by texting from their laps. A study from the University of Glasgow shows that focusing on something on your lap, rather than having the phone's display at a normal viewing level, might be more hazardous for a texting driver.

No matter what your state law is, it's smart to be on the lookout for distracted drivers. 

Driver guide: Steer Clear of Texting Scofflaws or Call 911? (USA Today)
Text Bans Don't Reduce Distracted Driving, Study Says
Most Drivers Still Use Cellphones, Know It's Wrong

Safety Social Reader