While some drivers apparently have gotten more brazen -- the Internet abounds with anecdotes about drivers buried in a novel or even practicing the trumpet -- motorists have been admitting to less-than-attentive driving for years.
A 2002 NHTSA survey of distracted driver behaviors reported that 12 percent of people admitted to reading a map or directions behind the wheel and 8 percent reported taking part in "personal grooming" while in motion. Nearly half, 49 percent, reported eating or drinking at least some of the time, while a whopping 81 percent reported chatting with fellow passengers.
Smith said she never once has been in an accident while multi-tasking in the car, though she sometimes worries what would happen if she were hit by someone else and didn't have her hands on the wheel.
Her daughter, now 27, however, was less than thrilled with her mother's habits.
"She always used to think, 'Mom, that's crazy!'" Smith said.
Several states have cracked down on distracted driving, and proposals for stricter regulations and harsher punishments have cropped up regularly. Six states and the District of Columbia ban handheld phones for all drivers, while 18 states and D.C. ban text messaging while driving.
Yet some states, including Alabama, Idaho and North Dakota have no laws on the books regarding distracted driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Still, there have been numerous cases of deaths blamed on distracted driving.
Lora Hunt, a suburban Illinois mother, pleaded not guilty to six counts of reckless homicide this month in connection with a March crash in which she smashed into motorcycle at a red light while painting her nails. The motorcyclist, Anita Zaffke, died from multiple internal injuries and a spinal fracture.
In 2007, text messaging was thought to be behind a crash that killed five cheerleaders in western New York.
While distracted driving has been blamed for causing motorists to weave or drive at slower speeds, crashes are the biggest consequence to worry about, Vanderbilt said.
Vanderbilt himself admits to using his iPhone in the car to change songs or check his e-mail, but only at a red light.
"There is always going to be a bit of 'distraction' in driving," he said. "As we get good at it, it typically consumes less of our mental workload."