Texting and Driving versus Drinking and Driving

Drunk driving vs texting and driving is a common topic when people discuss the dangers of distracted or impaired driving. It’s easy for people to think texting and driving is safer because you’re likely sober and may only look down for a few seconds.

Thinking texting and driving is even remotely safe is a common misconception, as it can be just as dangerous as drinking and driving. Many studies find that people can focus more when intoxicated to the legal limit than when trying to use their phone while driving.

Keep reading to learn about drunk driving vs texting and driving to understand the severity of these reckless actions.

Legal Definition of Drinking and Driving

As most people know, driving after drinking can be legal if you stay under a certain blood alcohol content. So, what is the exact definition of drinking and driving?

First, and probably the most important consideration, is the driver’s age. If the driver is under 21, any trace of alcohol in their system can result in a DUI charge and alcohol consumption as a minor charge. So if you’re 20 and drive after drinking, even if you’re under the legal limit, you are subject to a DUI.

The legal alcohol limits may vary from state to state, but most are the same. For regular drivers, meaning drivers who do not have any impairment, such as vision loss, the legal limit is 0.08% BAC.

Regular drivers also refer to people with passenger licenses (Class C or D in most states), the standard license most people in the US drive with. But if you drive with a commercial driver’s license (Class A, B, or C, depending on the state and license specifications), the legal limit drops to 0.04%.

You’re subject to this limit if you operate a vehicle with a commercial driver’s license. You may receive a DUI, even if you were not operating a commercial vehicle when you were pulled over.

Many states have additional legal limits that determine the charge and conviction. For example, if you are pulled over in Texas with a BAC of over 0.15%, you will face more serious charges than if your BAC was between 0.08% and 0.15%. You can learn more about the legal consequences of drinking and driving in one of the sections below.

Defining drunk driving becomes more complex when a breathalyzer or blood test is not taken. When assessing the level of intoxication using sobriety field tests and overall behavior, it’s often up to the police officer to make a judgment. But these judgments do not hold up in court as well as a BAC test. 

Legal Definition of Texting and Driving

Defining texting and driving can be more difficult. Most people know that sending text messages is an example of texting and driving.

But what about reading a text message?

What about sending emails?

What about changing the song on your phone?

What if you’re using your phone’s navigation system?

What about checking your phone for the time?

These questions make the definition of texting and driving complicated. Again, the specific laws concerning texting and driving will vary by state. These laws can also change from city to city, making it even more confusing.

First, most states have strict laws concerning minors and new drivers. Drivers under 18 and drivers who have held their license for less than six months cannot use their phones or other handheld devices in any capacity. A police officer could issue a citation or charge if a minor or new driver is driving just holding their phone in their hand or having it sitting in their lap.

Many states also have strict laws concerning children and schools. Bus drivers are not allowed to use handheld devices if children are on the bus, meaning no phone calls or navigation. And using your phone in any capacity within a school zone is also illegal.

In Texas, texting and driving is defined as sending or receiving any form of an electronic message, whether a text, email, iMessage, Slack message, or anything else that constitutes electronic communication. This law can be confusing, as you cannot control if someone sends you a message while you’re driving. The law does not address this, but in court, the consensus is, “received,†is defined as opening and reading the message.

Adults can use their phones to make calls while driving, but it’s considered texting and driving if the person looks at their phone for more than four seconds or pushes multiple buttons.

Exceptions to the Rules

In some states, such as Colorado, there are exceptions to these rules. Depending on the state you may not be charged for texting and driving if you used your device for the following reasons:

  • You had reason to fear for your life or safety
  • You believed a criminal act may be perpetrated against you or someone else
  • You are reporting an emergency, such as a fire, traffic accident, road hazard, or other serious situation
  • You are reporting a driver who is operating their vehicle recklessly, carelessly, or in an unsafe manner

For example, if you’re driving and suspect the driver in front of you is intoxicated, you can legally use your device to report the situation.

However, it’s always safer to pull over if you can.

States That Allow Texting and Driving

Only two US states permit texting and driving. In Missouri and Montana, licensed adult drivers can text while operating a vehicle.

However, there are some laws concerning minors texting, drivers under 21 texting, and commercial drivers texting. And if you cause an accident while texting, you can be charged with negligent driving.

Also, some towns and cities have bans on texting and driving, but Montana’s and Missouri’s state governments do not have bans on texting and driving.

Texting and Driving Statistics Vs. Drinking and Driving Statistics

Numbers don’t lie. Below are some of the most important texting and driving statistics and drinking and driving statistics. These stats exemplify the danger of texting and driving and the danger of drunk driving.

All of the statistics below apply to the United States, not global traffic data.

  • Texting and driving is six times more likely to cause a car crash than drinking and driving
  • Texting and driving is equivalent to driving after four beers
  • Men are four times more likely to drink and drive
  • Women are more likely to text and drive
  • Over 11,000 fatal car crashes and traffic fatalities are caused by drunk driving
  • Over 400 fatal car crashes and traffic fatalities are caused by texting and driving
  • Roughly 39% of drivers admit to reading a text or email while driving
  • Roughly 29% of drivers admit to typing or sending a message while driving
  • When drunk, reaction time decreases by an average of 120 milliseconds
  • After using your phone, it takes up to 27 seconds to refocus on the road
  • About 30% of all fatal crashes are caused by drunk driving
  • About 9% of all fatal crashes are caused by texting and driving
  • Texting slows driver reactions by 35%
  • Drinking up to the legal limit slows driver reactions by 12%

These numbers can be a lot to digest, but essentially, texting and driving is more likely to cause a nonfatal collision, while drunk driving is more likely to cause a fatal crash. In the end, both are extremely dangerous, and texting and driving is by no means safer than drinking and driving. So, is distracted driving worse than drunk driving? They’re essentially equally dangerous.

Legal Repercussions for Drinking and Driving

So, what happens if someone gets caught drinking and driving? It heavily depends on the state, so if you’re curious, look up your state’s specific drinking and driving penalties. The type of charge, conviction, and punishment for a DWI or DUI will depend on the following factors:

  • The state or city’s specific drinking and driving laws
  • Your record (first, second, third, fourth, etc. offense)
  • Years since the last offense
  • The driver’s age
  • The driver’s BAC
  • Driving speed
  • If there were passengers present
  • If the passenger(s) was a minor
  • Damages (property, injury, death)

As you can see, many factors influence the charge. The penalties for drunk driving are increasingly worse the more offenses you commit. But, generally, the first offense comes with:

  • A hefty penalty, usually about $2,000
  • Possible jail time between three and 180 days
  • License suspension for one to two years
  • An order to finish an intervention or education program
  • Possible ignition interlock devices (breathalyzer attached to a vehicle)

The first offense almost always incurs a fine, license suspension, and order to complete an education program. Ignition interlock devices and jail time for a first offense will depend on the severity of the factors discussed above.

In many states, a second drunk driving offense comes with mandatory jail time, usually just a few days. Also, first offenses could be sealed, expunged, or deferred, but second offenses are permanent. Once you surpass two offenses, the penalties become much worse, such as 10 years in jail and $15,000 fines. You may also permanently lose your driver’s license.

When Is Drinking and Driving a Felony?

In most states, a DUI or DWI charge becomes a felony when it is the driver’s fourth or more drunk driving offense or the accident caused a fatality or irreparable injury, such as paralysis. The first drunk driving offense is almost always a misdemeanor unless someone was killed or severely hurt.

Legal Repercussions of Texting and Driving

Compared to the penalties for drunk driving, the legal repercussions of texting and driving are minimal. The penalties, if you’re pulled over for texting and driving in most states, are:

  • First Offense: $100 fine
  • Second Offense: $200 fine
  • Third Offense: $300 fine, possible license suspension

On the other hand, the penalties become more severe if there was death or injury involved. If someone caused a collision while texting and driving that resulted in death or severe injury, they could be fined up to $5,000 and spend one year in jail. If the prosecutor decides to charge the driver with criminally negligent homicide or vehicular manslaughter, the fines and incarceration periods can be significantly more. 

When Is Texting and Driving a Felony?

A texting and driving charge does not usually elevate to a felony. If someone was severely injured or killed due to texting and driving, the charge is typically changed to negligent homicide or vehicular manslaughter with the cause being distracted driving.

Others Forms of Distracted Driving

Many states and cities have specific texting and driving laws and penalties, but texting and driving technically falls under the category of distracted driving. Below are other forms of distracted driving to be aware of:

  • Drinking (non-alcoholic) while driving
  • Eating while driving
  • Using headphones or earbuds while driving
  • Doing makeup, hair, or other grooming activities while driving
  • Dealing with pets, children, or other passengers in the car
  • Adjusting your car’s GPS
  • Adjusting your car’s climate settings (AC, heat, defrost, etc.)
  • Adjusting your car’s audio (radio station, volume, etc.)
  • Looking at things on the side of the road (signs, accidents, people, etc.)
  • Reading while driving
  • Looking for something in a bag, wallet, or elsewhere in the car

While there are many types of distracted driving, texting and driving is likely the worst because it requires visual, mental, and physical attention.

Bottom Line

So, drunk driving vs texting, which is worse? Both are dangerous and can cause massive accidents, serious injuries, and death. While people often want to compare them, the reality is they’re equally dangerous, although the consequences can differ.

As mentioned, drunk driving often causes more deaths, while texting and driving causes more accidents. In some ways, drunk driving is worse, but the prevalence of texting and driving makes it just as serious of an issue.


Below are quick answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.

How is texting and driving the same as drinking and driving?

Like drinking, texting slows down reaction time and decreases their ability to focus, leading to collisions and sometimes death.

What kills more people: drunk driving or texting?

Drinking and driving kills more people, but texting and driving causes more accidents.

How many drinks is texting and driving equal to?

Texting and driving is the same as drinking four beers before getting behind the wheel.

Contact Stoy Law Group

If you or a loved on has been injured by a drunk or distracted driver, please do not hesitate to contact a Fort Worth Car Accident Lawyer at Stoy Law Group, PLLC today for help.

You can contact us at the office at (817) 820-0100 or submit a free case evaluation.