Public Health Driving and Public Health
Tony Kuo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 November 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 November 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0211


Distracted driving is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “the practice of driving a motor vehicle while engaged in another activity, typically one that involves the use of a mobile phone or other electronic device.” However, other distractions not involving the use of a cell phone or texting are important as well, contributing to this burgeoning public health problem in the United States. Examples include talking to other passengers, adjusting the radio or other controls in the car, and daydreaming. Distracted driving has been linked to increased risk of motor vehicle crashes (MVCs) in the United States, representing one of the most preventable leading causes of death for youth ages 16 to 24 years. Undoubtedly, the proliferation of cell phone, global positioning system (GPS), and other in-vehicle and personal electronic device use while driving has led to this rise in distracted driving prevalence. This behavior has impacted society—including individual and commercial drivers, passengers, pedestrians—in countless numbers of ways, ranging from increased MVCs and deaths to the enactment of new driving laws. In 2016, for example, 20 percent of all US pediatric deaths (nearly 4,000 children and adolescents) were due to fatal MVCs. It has been estimated that at any given time, more than 650,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving. In the United States, efforts are underway to reduce this driving behavior. In the past two decades, state and federal laws have specifically targeted cell phone use and texting while driving as priority areas for legal intervention. Distracted driving laws have become “strategies of choice” for tackling this public health problem, though their enforcement has emerged as a major challenge and varies by jurisdiction and location. Multimodal interventions using models such as the “three Es” framework—Enactment of a law, Education of the public about the law and safety practices, and Enforcement of the law—have become accepted practice or viewed as necessary steps to successfully change this behavior caused by distractions while driving. This Oxford Bibliographies review introduces these and other aspects (including psychological influences and road conditions) of distracted driving through a presentation of annotated resources from peer- and non-peer-reviewed literature. This selective review aims to provide policymakers, program implementers, and researchers with a reliable source of information on the past and current state of American laws, policies, and priorities for distracted driving.

Overview of the Peer-Reviewed Literature

Distracted driving is a complex behavior characterized by distractions that can impair a driver’s attention or focus on the road. Although cell phone use and texting are considered the principal causes, other factors such as psychological distress/mood, passenger interactions, and preoccupation with in-vehicle technology can contribute to this driving behavior. American laws, policies, and priorities have accordingly focused and intervened on these and other aspects of distracted driving, including laws or policy interventions that target distractions like cell phone use or texting while driving among young drivers. The following provides an overview (snapshot) of distracted driving research as published in the peer-reviewed literature.

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