Everyone is awful: new study shows that 88 percent of us use our phones while driving

April 19, 2017

The history of humankind has been fraught with tension--not tension between tribes or fiefdoms or nation-states, but between our desire to avoid death and our innate urge to scream, "Look, ma, no hands!"

Case in point: texting and driving. It's dumb. It's dangerous. It's deadly. We all know that. And yet, it remains a problem. According to a new study, the problem is getting worse. 

The study was carried out by Zendrive, a company that tracks drivers' behavior (especially mobile phone usage) for fleet owners and insurers. You could call it a driving coach, but then again, maybe it's a tattler. Either way, it's got it's eye focused on the issue of distracted driving.

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Zendrive carried out a massive study--by its account, the largest ever conducted on the topic of distracted driving. All told, the company "aggregated and analyzed data from 3.1 million anonymized drivers, who took 570 million trips, covering 5.6 billion miles nationwide between December 2016 and February 2017."

That's roughly one percent of the U.S. population. So yeah, it's a big study. 

What did it uncover? Nothing good, if you're concerned about safety.

For starters, 88 percent of drivers in the study used their phones behind the wheel--a figure that's significantly higher than stats we've seen before. Apply that number to the U.S. population as a whole, and it translates to a whopping 600 million car trips carried out by distracted drivers every day. 

On each trip, motorists spent an average of 3.5 minutes on their phones. As Zendrive points out, any distraction taking up more than two seconds of time can increase the risk of an accidents by up to 24 times. If drivers spend those 3.5 minutes glancing at their phones in two-second increments, that's 105 opportunities for a collision. Even using a hands-free device to make calls comes with an increased risk of accidents. 

Hand-held cell phone bans do nothing to address the problem. We've heard that before, and Zendrive confirms it. The worst performers in Zendrive's study were drivers in Vermont, where there's a law preventing motorists from using hand-held mobile phones. The least distracted drivers were in Oregon, where a similar ban is on the books. That suggests that something different must be done to combat the problem of distracted driving before it gets any worse.

Our take

It's worth noting that Zendrive has a not-so-obscure interest in drawing attention to the problem of distracted driving. The more people who become concerned about the issue, the more likely they are to use Zendrive's services. 

That said, the statements included in the study appears to be well supported by data. You can take a look at the full study yourself here

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