Smartphones, Social Apps and Distracted Driving



Smartphones are perhaps the greatest invention of the past 20 years. We have gone from paying a quarter per web page accessed on a flip phone to being able to access all the information in the world with just a few taps of a finger. More than that, we now carry our entire world with us, with 80 percent of all social media usage being on mobile phones. Yet, for all the wonder our iPhones and Androids bring us, unwanted consequences have tagged along as well.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever sent a text, tweet, Snapchat message or Facebook post while you were behind the wheel of your car (don’t worry, we won’t tell). This form of distracted driving has become one of the biggest issues in the nation. In 2014 alone, more than 430,000 people were injured in distracted driving accidents, and more than 3,000 were killed. Young drivers seem to be the most distracted: 10 percent of teenage drivers who were involved in fatal crashes were distracted by their phones at the time.

While smartphones are not the only distractions in vehicles, they are certainly the most prevalent in New York. Besides texting and phone calls, a new source of distraction has arisen: mobile apps. And because apps require so much attention while they’re being used, they can be deadly for all drivers on the road.

Distracted Driving: The New Epidemic

hand-man-driving-an-expensive-car-with-a-cup-of-coffeeThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released new data regarding traffic accidents. Fatalities rose over 7 percent in the past year, the largest increase in the past 50 years. Of those fatalities, distracted driving contributed to at least 10 percent of them. In fact, fatalities from just distracted driving increased nearly 9 percent in that same time frame. While phone usage is a prevalent issue, the data also takes into account fiddling with the radio, applying makeup, eating, looking at a GPS and other factors.

A new study conducted by auto insurer Everquote has revealed even more startling news. They surveyed about 2,300 drivers, then combined the answers they received with data of about 35,000 drivers who use the insurance company’s app on their smartphone. What they found is that we are not as safe of drivers as we’d like to believe. Nearly every person who took the survey claimed they would consider themselves a “safe driver.” However, 56 percent of those same drivers said they use their phone while behind the wheel.

That data is only from the survey, however. Everquote tracks phone usage while driving for those who have the company’s app installed on their phone. That data revealed that about 96 percent of people used their phone while driving in the past 30 days, and they averaged one phone call per trip. In addition, their average driver used their phone for 0.4 miles for every 11 miles driven.  

The Influence of Apps

man-in-plaid-shirt-sitting-in-the-car-and-holding-black-mobile-phone-with-map-gps-navigationWhile calls and text messages are often the most cited uses of smartphones on the road, app usage has presented a very real and growing danger. A new study conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) recently revealed that 68 percent of teenagers use mobile apps while they are driving. That same study showed that, when asked, about 95 percent of participants stated they thought using a social media app while driving was dangerous. Yet, further tests showed about 80 percent also thought looking at notifications from those apps was not distracting.

It’s not just Facebook and Twitter that get a bad rap, either. Navigation and other utilities can be highly distracting. About 40 percent of participants said Maps and similar apps are distracting, but about 60 percent of teens use them while driving. Having a GPS app running while driving isn’t necessarily dangerous in itself, especially if voice commands are being used. But, trying to input a destination or actively checking directions can be. In addition, apps like iTunes, Spotify and Pandora also pose a threat, as teenagers tend to search for new music or change their playlist while they’re driving.

What’s Being Done?

Putting an end to distracted driving is no small task. However, different government organizations are doing all they can. Nearly every state has laws on the books that prevent phone usage while driving in some way, whether it prevents just texting and social media or phone usage as a whole, including calls. Private companies have also taken a stand. For instance, AT&T has a popular “It Can Wait” campaign that encourages its phone service users to leave their phone alone while behind the wheel.

Smaller businesses in New York are also trying to prevent distracted driving in their area. There are many different scholarship opportunities available for teenagers who drive safely, and other awards for people who refuse to use their phone while operating a vehicle. Though these may not be as visible and public as AT&T’s campaigns, every small effort can make an impact in ending the epidemic of distracted driving.