Auto Insurance

Young Missouri Drivers Are Over Three Times More Likely to Get Into a Distracted Driving Crash

Distracted driving is a serious cause of accidents in Missouri, contributing to almost 14% of crashes in a single year. New laws to penalize texting and driving may help mitigate the problem, which is particularly widespread among young drivers, who get into distracted driving crashes at three times the rate of the state average.

Worst counties for distracted driving crashes by young Missourians

There is a perception that young drivers, those aged 21 and under, are susceptible to technological distraction while in cars, such as texting while driving. The data in Missouri backs up this claim. While the state as a whole has a distracted driving crash rate of 13 crashes per 1,000 residents, among the younger demographic, this number jumps to 43. That means those in the 21-and-under age group are more than three times as likely to get into an accident caused by distracted driving.

Young drivers are more likely to get into an accident caused by distracted driving.
Young drivers are more likely to get into an accident caused by distracted driving.

Below we've listed the counties in Missouri with the highest distracted driving crash rate among crashes involving drivers aged 21 and under. Hickory County comes out on top, with almost 90 crashes per 1,000 residents under the age of 21. All five of the top counties for distracted driving crashes in Missouri across all ages — Franklin, Cape Girardeau, Jefferson, Washington and Lawrence — are also in the top 10 counties for crashes caused by young distracted drivers.

RankCountyShare of population 15 to 19 years oldCrash rate (per 1,000 young residents)
1Hickory4.9%89.7
2Franklin6.3%88.5
3Jefferson6.2%83.0
4Washington5.9%80.4
5Laclede6.2%72.7
6Osage6.9%70.7
7Montgomery5.5%70.3
8Lawrence7.3%66.7
9Cape Girardeau7.3%64.9
10Pettis6.6%62.2

The safest Missouri counties for young drivers have a distracted driving crash rate almost 60% lower than the state average

Conversely, the 10 counties in Missouri with the lowest rate of distracted driving caused by young residents averaged 18 distracted driving crashes per 1,000 residents from the last three years of data, compared to an average rate of 43 crashes for all young Missouri drivers statewide. That's more than 60% lower than the state average. The safest county overall is Reynolds, in which 6.3% of the population qualifies as a young driver compared to a state average of 6.6%.

RankCountyShare of population 15 to 19 years oldCrash rate (per 1,000 young residents)
1Reynolds6.3%12.4
2Knox8.3%15.2
3Lewis9.3%16
4Carter7.0%16
5Howard8.1%17
6Shelby6.6%17.3
7Boone8.3%20.4
8St. Clair5.1%20.7
9Dade6.3%20.9
10Shannon6.9%21.1

Distracted driving laws in Missouri

Missouri is one of the only states that has not made texting and driving completely illegal. Only young drivers — those 21 and under — are barred from sending, reading or writing electronic messages, and face penalties like a $200 fine and points against their license.

The lack of a law regulating handheld device use while driving could be contributing to higher rates of distracted driving crashes. Our research shows that states with the strictest distracted driving regulations typically had the fewest distracted driving deaths.

However, Missouri currently has a bill pending in the state senate, Senate Bill 15, which would extend penalties for texting or sending other electronic messages while operating a vehicle to drivers of all ages. The penalty would be a $50 fine, or a $100 fine if the infraction took place in a school or work zone.

A ban on cellphone usage would likely be a small but important step toward minimizing distracted driving crashes and auto crashes more generally. According to Missouri's Statewide Traffic Accident Records System (STAR), there were approximately 153,000 crashes in 2017, the most recent available year for data. Of all crashes, approximately 21,000, or 14%, attributed distracted driving as one of the causes.

2017 Missouri crash statistics...

  • Total Missouri car crashes: 153,422
  • Crashes caused by distracted drivers: 21,058 (13.7% of total)

And the contribution of handheld communication devices to distracted driving accidents is increasing. In 2007, handheld communication devices represented a cause of approximately 4% of distracted driving crashes. In 2017, this share had risen to 12%.

CauseTotal distracted driving crashes (2017)Share
External Distraction4,28220.3%
Communication Devices2,60412.4%
Passengers1,3036.2%
Stereo/Audio/Video Equipment8974.3%
Eating/Drinking7593.6%
Navigation Device4752.3%
Adjusting Vehicle Controls3421.6%
Tobacco Use2331.1%
Grooming640.3%
Computer Equipment/Electronic Games/etc.620.3%
Reading490.2%
Other9,98847.4%

Although a new distracted driving law would likely have a positive effect toward lowering crash totals, according to these numbers, even a 100% reduction would lower crashes by less than 3,000 per year. That said, this analysis must be taken with the important caveat that metrics on the use of phones during crashes are flawed. Numbers regarding crashes caused by cellphones are likely underestimated, as drivers can misrepresent the cause of a crash to the police.

Outside of fines, distracted driving can also lead to traffic violations or accidents that increase auto insurance premiums in Missouri and elsewhere.

Worst counties for distracted driving crashes - all ages

Although young drivers have the highest distracted driving rates, distracted driving is a much broader issue in Missouri. Over the last three years of data, approximately 14% of crashes in the state were caused all or in part by distracted driving. Below we've listed the most dangerous counties for distracted driving in Missouri.


1. Franklin County

  • 23.2 Distracted driving crashes per 1,000 residents over three years
  • 15 fatal crashes due to distracted driving over the same time

Named for Benjamin Franklin, the county was responsible for almost 3% of Missouri’s distracted driving crashes from 2015 to 2017. Franklin County is the tenth most populous in Missouri and ranked eighth of all counties for car crashes of any type. Over the same time period, 15 of the distracted driving crashes were fatal, a rate of 0.15 per 1,000 residents.


2. Cape Girardeau County

  • 21.4 Distracted driving crashes per 1,000 residents over three years
  • Six fatal crashes due to distracted driving over the same time

Cape Girardeau is the fifteenth most populous county in Missouri and 2% of the state's distracted driving crashes happened here in the three-year analyzed period. Like Franklin County, Cape Girardeau's share of the state's total crashes is similar to its share of distracted driving crashes, at 1.6%.


3. Jefferson County

  • 21.3 Distracted driving crashes per 1,000 residents over three years
  • 24 fatal crashes due to distracted driving over the same time

Jefferson County, named after Thomas Jefferson, is the seventh most populous in the state and ranks third for distracted driving crash rate. Jefferson's 24 fatal crashes due to distracted driving is the highest among this top five, though this results from its being the most populous county in the list rather than its having a high fatal crash rate.


4. Washington County

  • 20.7 Distracted driving crashes per 1,000 residents over three years
  • Eight fatal crashes due to distracted driving over the same time

Named after the country's first president, Washington is a midsize county, the forty-fifth most populous in the state, with the fourth-highest distracted driving rate. Washington represented a tiny share of total Missouri crashes, around 0.3%, but its share of distracted driving crashes, approximately 0.6%, was almost double that. Washington was also one of the top 10 counties in the state for fatal distracted driving crashes. With eight deaths from 2015 to 2017 due to distracted driving, Washington was ninth in the state for fatal distracted driving crashes and the highest of these top five counties.


5. Lawrence County

  • 20.4 Distracted driving crashes per 1,000 residents over three years
  • Eight fatal crashes due to distracted driving over the same time

Lawrence — another midsize county with just over 38,000 residents — rounds out our list of the five counties with highest distracted driving rates, just beating out St. Louis County, sixth on our list. Like Washington County, Lawrence has a much higher rate of distracted driving crashes compared to total crashes. Lawrence accounted for 0.6% of all crashes in Missouri but almost 1% of distracted driving crashes.

Safest large counties for distracted driving

Of the 21 counties and independent city (St. Louis) with at least 50,000 residents, Boone County ranks as the safest for distracted driving in Missouri. Boone only has 6.9 distracted driving crashes per 1,000 residents against a state average of 13.3.

RankCountyPopulationCrash rate (per 1,000 residents)
1Boone174,5896.9
2Cass101,8887.7
3Clay236,0688.8
4Jackson688,5549.0
5Platte96,8999.1
6Buchanan89,4259.2
7Christian83,02810.2
8Newton58,23710.7
9Lincoln54,80012.2
10Greene286,75912.5

How does the state of Missouri define distracted driving?

Missouri classifies a range of factors as driving distractions, ranging from other passengers to tobacco use. According to STAR, the top five categorized causes of distracted driving crashes are external distraction, handheld communication devices, passengers, AV equipment and eating or drinking. These events combine with uncategorized to contribute to over 90% of distracted driving crashes.

CauseTotal distracted driving crashes (2017)Share
External distraction4,28220.3%
Communication devices2,60412.4%
Passengers1,3036.2%
Stereo/Audio/Video equipment8974.3%
Eating/Drinking7593.6%
Navigation device4752.3%
Adjusting vehicle controls3421.6%
Tobacco use2331.1%
Grooming640.3%
Computer equipment/Electronic games/etc.620.3%
Reading490.2%
Other9,98847.4%

How does this compare to 10 years ago? STAR has changed how it has categorized distractions since 2007, but the biggest increase in distraction causes, as a share of total crashes, has come from handheld communication devices. With the rise of smartphones, these devices went from the cause of 3.9% of distracted driving crashes to 12.4%. The biggest fall came from "Other," as events such as "External Distraction" were given their own categorization by STAR.

CauseTotal distracted driving crashes (2007)Share
Communication device - handheld1,7053.9%
Passengers1,1212.5%
Stereo/Audio/Video equipment6741.5%
Eating/Drinking4691.1%
Tobacco use2080.5%
Reading1250.3%
Computer equipment/Electronic games/etc.470.1%
Grooming440.1%
Other39,80490.1%

Complete list of Missouri counties and their distracted driving rankings

Rank (overall distracted driving crash rate)CountyOverall distracted driving crash rate per 1,000 residentsDistracted driving crash rate per 1,000 young residents
1Franklin23.288.5
2Cape Girardeau21.464.9
3Jefferson21.383.0
4Washington20.780.4
5Lawrence20.466.7
6St. Louis18.652.9
7Laclede18.472.7
8Hickory17.889.7
9Butler17.362.0
10Jasper16.857.7
11Dallas16.750.7
12Pettis16.662.2
13Audrain16.159.7
14Osage15.870.7
15Crawford15.548.5
16St. Francois15.151.3
17St. Louis City15.023.9
18Sullivan14.758.3
19Taney14.741.3
20Johnson14.746.6
21St. Charles14.352.1
22Polk14.043.9
23Barry13.946.1
24Ripley13.849.3
25Stone13.855.8
26Montgomery13.770.3
27Gasconade13.551.2
28Clark13.455.7
29Cole13.353.3
30Webster13.337.1
31Putnam13.257.7
32Pulaski13.225.0
33Mercer13.147.0
34Cooper12.644.6
35Greene12.543.6
36Henry12.444.5
37Camden12.347.4
38Morgan12.343.3
39Scott12.238.8
40Lincoln12.249.2
41Saline11.933.3
42Livingston11.646.3
43Howell11.550.2
44Maries11.439.1
45Phelps11.138.8
46Stoddard11.138.8
47Mcdonald11.025.6
48Grundy11.051.8
49Perry10.942.9
50Newton10.737.0
51Warren10.647.7
52Callaway10.428.6
53Nodaway10.427.2
54Pike10.240.3
55Christian10.246.6
56Iron10.037.2
57Miller9.943.4
58Andrew9.736.5
59Dunklin9.730.5
60Ray9.735.8
61Randolph9.643.5
62Pemiscot9.422.7
63Wright9.328.4
64Scotland9.261.2
65Buchanan9.233.7
66Ste. Genevieve9.236.1
67Dent9.127.9
68Oregon9.133.3
69Linn9.136.9
70Platte9.132.3
71Vernon9.031.8
72Jackson9.025.2
73Bollinger9.029.3
74Madison8.941.5
75Barton8.925.1
76Clay8.831.7
77Texas8.843.3
78Lafayette8.731.0
79New Madrid8.731.8
80Adair8.621.4
81Bates8.549.4
82Cedar8.440.7
83Ozark8.429.6
84Douglas8.123.7
85Benton8.134.7
86Macon8.029.4
87Moniteau7.936.6
88Harrison7.935.0
89Marion7.929.2
90Daviess7.827.0
91Monroe7.728.1
92Cass7.737.5
93Dade7.720.9
94Caldwell7.631.7
95Wayne7.527.5
96Clinton7.532.0
97Ralls7.442.3
98Shannon7.121.1
99St. Clair7.120.7
100Boone6.920.4
101Dekalb6.837.0
102Knox6.815.2
103Reynolds6.612.4
104Carter6.616.0
105Mississippi6.426.3
106Carroll6.226.0
107Lewis5.916.0
108Atchison5.436.8
109Howard5.017.0
110Holt4.934.8
111Schuyler4.725.2
112Chariton4.627.2
113Shelby4.617.3
114Worth4.424.2
115Gentry4.028.6

Methodology

Valuepenguin analyzed data on distracted driver crashes reported by Missouri's Statewide Traffic Accident Records System (STAR) from 2015 to 2017 and compared it to U.S. Census data on county populations. Total distracted driving crashes per county are a sum of total crashes in both the incorporated and unincorporated sections of the county. The number of people aged 15 to 19 in a county was used as a proxy for young driver population.

Mark Fitzpatrick

Mark is a Senior Research Analyst for ValuePenguin focusing primarily on the insurance industry, primarily auto insurance. He previously worked in financial risk management at State Street Corporation.

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