The car insurance penalty for distracted driving rose nearly 10,000% this decade

The penalties for texting and talking on a handheld phone while driving now include massive insurance premium increases, according to The Zebra. From 2011 to 2018, the average annual insurance premium adjustment for a distracted driving conviction in the United States rose from just under $3 to $290, a 9,750% increase.

The Zebra’s 2019 Distracted Driving Report drew on 61 million insurance rates from the research company’s 2019 State of Auto Insurance Report. The study compared the rate in every U.S. ZIP code for a 30-year-old single male with a 2014 Honda Accord EX.

The premium penalty for distracted driving rose dramatically in the past three years, in part because insurance companies had to justify the rate increase to regulators. By 2016 the companies had amassed enough data on the insurance risk of drivers with distracted driving convictions to convince regulators that the rate increases were justified and fair.

If a $24.16 monthly bump ($290 divided by 12 months) on a convicted distracted driver’s seems low, remember that’s the national average. Depending on a driver’s state and city of residence, the premium penalty can be smaller than the average or much, much higher.

The state average annual distracted driving penalty in late 2018 ranged from $87 to $762. For people who live in some cities, The Zebra reported the penalty is almost $1,700.

The five states with the highest insurance premium penalties for distracted driving are Michigan ($762), Vermont ($600), California ($510), Montana ($454), and Connecticut ($463).

The five states with the lowest insurance penalties for distracted driving are Wyoming ($87), New York ($93), Hawaii ($94), Idaho ($138), and Maryland ($167).

If you think the insurance companies are overstating the case for the danger of distracted driving, consider The Zebra reports comparison to driving under the influence (DUI). Each day, on average, nine people die from car accidents caused by distracted driving. There are 29 fatalities due to DUIs per day. The national average insurance penalty for a driver with a DUI conviction is $1,086, compared to $290 for distracted driving.

So, DUI is responsible for more deaths, and the insurance penalty is higher than that of distracted driving, but consider the pairing for the comparison. When a report uses drunken driving to illustrate behavior more dangerous than distracted driving, the point is clear.

ZenDrive’s 2018 report on “risky persona drivers” concluded that, despite increased enforcement and rising fines for distracted driving convictions, phone addicts were the most likely to have accidents. Hostile drivers and high-speed drivers were the second and third most accident-prone drivers, respectively, but distracted drivers led the list.

Updated April 29, 2019, to correct the average 2011 rate penalty for distracted from $2 to just under $3. 

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