Insurance Penalty for Distracted Driving Up Almost 10,000 Percent Since 2011, Study Says

Car insurance companies used to be lenient toward on-the-road phone users. Now, they'll slap you with an extra $24 monthly if you're caught.

Irresponsible elderly man at steering wheel checking messages on smart phone while driving car on road.
UIG via Getty Images

Popularization of smartphones over the last decade or so has convinced Americans that distracted driving is the number one cause of crashes, and insurance companies are convinced too; they've reportedly increased penalties for distracted driving by almost 10,000 percent.

In its 2019 summary of distracted driving, car insurance shopping service The Zebra reports that in 2011, citations for distracted driving related to use of cell phones behind the wheel made for a negligible increase in insurance premiums, at less than $3 annually. Though the penalty for distracted driving tickets increased significantly through 2015, the increase in insurance premiums remained marginal until 2016. That's the year that insurance companies seemed to realize the scale of the distracted driving endemic, spiking the annual cost of premiums to $185, or more than $15 per month for a ticket.

The Zebra

Consequences for distracted driving tickets have only increased since, and in 2018, getting such a citation would increase the average driver's insurance by $290 annually, or more than $24 per month. The Zebra notes this approximately $24 monthly increase makes for a 19.7 percent uptick in cost over the average cost of insurance, which, based on these numbers, means the average American pays around $120 monthly for car insurance.

The national average, however, is 19.7 percent, and some states are higher or lower than this figure. New York, Wyoming, and Hawaii drivers face small increases in premiums, of less than 10 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, Vermont insurers will charge an average of 56 percent more to insure drivers ticketed for distracted driving, or an extra $600 yearly.

Distracted driving tickets are still small potatoes in comparison to more severe violations, of course. Drivers cited for speeding or running red lights in 2018 saw insurance premiums rise by an average of 34 percent. Driving under the influence tended to inflate premiums by around 74 percent, or $1,086 annually.

Those who engage in the demonstrably risky practice of driving while fiddling with their phones aren't confined to a single age group, despite a tendency to point to young people. Instead, one study by Volvo found that all generations are guilty of using their phones behind the wheel, and that the least responsible phone-using drivers were actually older drivers.

Phones are but one source of technological distraction inside cars in the modern era. Automakers' increased inclination to plaster ever-expanding infotainment touch screens on the dashboards of their cars has been the subject of criticism from both outside and within the industry. Acclaimed Jaguar designer Ian Callum is one source of pushback from within the automotive world, and has stated that he will avoid integrating distracting technology into his designs if possible.