Busted: “11 teens die a day from texting and driving”

Busted: “11 teens die a day from texting and driving”

Saw this item shared on on social media:

Sounds convincing. Except it is not true.

But we can bust this meme another way. I first noted that 11 x 365 days per year is 4,015 teens are said to die per year from texting and driving.

But according to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, in 2017, a total of 3,166 people were killed due to “distracted driving” – that includes adults, teens and children, which is less than 4,015.  Cell phone usage is a subset of the “distracted driving” category, meaning its less than the total of distracted driving deaths of all ages.

The claim that 11 teens die per day due to cell phone usage is not supported by data. In fact, 9 people die each day – including adultsfrom all forms of distracted driving. And cell phones are 9% of the distracted driving category implying that the upper bound is 0.81 teens per day, not 11.

Six Teens Died Per Day in Crashes Due to All Causes

In fact, teens die at a higher rate than they should. In 2017, the CDC reported that 2,354 teens were killed in motor vehicle accidents – and that six teens died every day in all types of motor vehicle accidents. Cellular phone usage does not appear in the CDC’s list of risk factors associated with these crashes.

Distracted driving accounts for 9% of all vehicle crashes (and cellphones are a subset of that). In fact, in 2016, there were 263 deaths of teens due to “distracted driving”, which is consistent with government figures that 10% of teen deaths were related to distracted driving. Thus, the actual data says less than 1 teen dies per day due to “distracted driving” of all types, and since 9% of those are cellular, we can estimate that 24 teens die per year due to cell phone usage. The actual number of teens dying per day due to cell phone use is closer to zero (24/365) than to one.

There are numerous reports online, including from official news sources, that cite the “11 teens die each day from texting and driving” claim. Each cites the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but this seems an unlikely source considering what they write on their own web site.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is not even sure that banning cell phone usage reduces crashes:

It’s not clear that banning hand-held phone use and texting reduces crashes. This is the case even though IIHS research has documented that bans on hand-held phone use reduce overall phone use. Crashes have increased in recent years, but overall cellphone use has not. Drivers are distracted by things other than cellphones, so prohibiting phone use will not eliminate distracted driving. Broader countermeasures that keep drivers from becoming distracted or that mitigate the consequences of distracted driving, such as crash avoidance technology, may be more effective than cellphone bans.

Source: Distracted driving


  • One, this meme ran through the mass media a few years back with the “11 teens” claim, but this appears to be false.
  • Two, those false reports then became “conventional wisdom” facts.
  • Third, the social media propaganda poster appears to have been created by a gun rights advocate in response to some teens seeking unspecified restrictions on guns. Guns kill an average of 4 children (aged 1-17) per day in the U.S.

The media – and some activists – have long promoted the hypothesis that cell phone usage while driving causes many crashes. The data does not support this assertion. But the assertion has been repeated often, and many times coming from presumed authorities, that the meme has turned into a “fact”.


The National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration counted 3,166 total lives lost in 2017 to “distracted driving” (https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving).

“Using a cell phone while driving creates enormous potential for deaths and injuries on U.S. roads. In 2017 alone, 3,166 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.”

Cell phone usage is itself a subset of the “distracted driving” category (estimated at 9%):

“Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system—anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.”

Thus – somehow, some one, somewhere went from a group of 3,166 adults, teens and children dying due to distracted driving – to then get to 4,015 teens dies each year from cell phone use (a subset of distracted driving) and then came up with a fictional 11 teens die per day due to cell phone use while driving.

Search Engine Text

Dear “Ban Gun” teenagers

11 teens dies a day from texting and driving.

Let’s ban your cell phone too.

Also, your car.

Comments are closed.