Which is More Dangerous: Drunk Driving or Distracted Driving?

September 30, 2015

In most states, including Texas, the criminal penalties for driving drunk are much harsher than the penalties for driving distracted. In fact, some states have passed laws specifically authorizing hands-free cell phone use while driving, and Texas is one of a handful of states that is yet to enact a statute outlawing texting behind the wheel. So, this must mean that drunk driving is more dangerous than distracted driving, right?


Over the past few years, several studies have shown that distracted driving is just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. Some researchers have even suggested that distracted driving is more dangerous than driving over the legal limit.

Distracted Driving vs. Drunk Driving

One of the studies most often cited when comparing the dangers of distracted driving to the dangers of driving under the influence is a 2006 study conducted by researchers at the University of Utah. This study compared the driving performance of drivers using their cell phones to drivers who were intoxicated, and reached the bold conclusion that, “cell-phone drivers exhibited greater impairment than intoxicated drivers.”

Since this 2006 study, other researchers have published similar results. For example, Car and Driver magazine conducted a study which found that:

  • Drivers who had a blood alcohol content level of 0.08 (the legal limit in Texas) stopped four feet after sober, attentive drivers.
  • Drivers who were reading an email stopped 36 feet after sober, attentive drivers.
  • Drivers who were sending a text message stopped 70 feet after sober, attentive drivers.

2014 Crash Data from the Texas Department of Transportation

Crash data from the Texas Department of Transportation (TDOT) seem to bear out the results of these studies. TDOT’s data show that “driver inattention was a contributing factor in 91,833 car accidents in 2014, 346 of which were fatal. Likely among these numbers, TDOT reports that cell phone led to 3,372 non-fatal accidents and 51 fatal accidents in 2014. TDOT also reports a third category, “distraction in vehicle,” which claimed 77 lives and led to more than 11,000 collisions.

In comparison, drivers who had been drinking or were intoxicated at the time of the accident contributed to between 14,578 and 24,177 Texas auto accidents in 2014, 593 to 825 of which involved fatalities.

So, while distracted and inattentive drivers caused more accidents in 2014, TDOT’s data show that accidents involving drunk drivers were more likely to be fatal.

The Similar Risks of Distracted and Drunk Driving

In any event, it is clear that both drunk driving and distracted driving are extremely dangerous. Both can lead to:

  • Slower reaction times
  • Reduced field of vision
  • Compromised decision-making

These factors put drivers at a substantially-increased risk of causing collisions. As a result, people who suffer injuries and lose loved ones due the actions of distracted and drunk drivers are often entitled to significant financial compensation.

Contact Morrow & Sheppard LLP about Your Distracted Driving or Drunk Driving Car Accident

Morrow & Sheppard LLP’s experienced Houston car accident lawyers provide aggressive representation for car accident victims in Texas. To find out if you may be entitled to financial compensation, please contact our Houston law offices today.

Get a Free Case Review by Calling Morrow & Sheppard Now.

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