Is “Social Media While Driving” the New Texting?

31 Jan

FTD 1-31We always hear about the dangers of texting and driving, but is texting really the problem? Or do the larger problems lie with other actions on those hand-held electronic devices? Here’s what a recent survey revealed and what it means for drivers on the road today.

Increases in Phone Use

Despite all the anti-texting and driving campaigns that have taken over the airwaves in recent years, studies show that more people are using smartphones behind the wheel. The insurance company State Farm has been conducting a survey every year for the past five years about distracting driving behaviors. More people are using smartphones while driving now; however, they’re only texting some of the time and they’re definitely not talking very much.

Other Risky Phone Behaviors

Now that most Americans have phones equipped with Internet access, more drivers are accessing webpages than they are talking or texting. Approximately 13 percent of drivers admitted to accessing the Internet while driving in 2009, but that number has recently doubled to 26 percent. The number of drivers who admit to reading emails while driving has nearly doubled as well. And the number of drivers who engage on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter has more than doubled since 2009.

Reasoning Behind the Changes

In general, people —especially young people— tend to interact with others more through social media and email on their phones than talking or texting. Just because the type of communications has shifted doesn’t mean that distracted driving is getting any less dangerous. In fact, reading emails and posting to social media is often even more time-consuming and distracting than simply chatting on the phone.

“We’re not sure why [these behaviors] are increasing,” says Chris Mullen, State Farm’s director of technology research. “But they are just as dangerous. People have a perception of what they are able to do with the attention span they have [while driving]. They believe they have available attention they can spend on something in addition to driving. They will spend that time with various behaviors.”

Statewide Bans

At this time, 44 states and Washington, DC have implemented some type of legal ban on distracted driving. These bans vary from primary offenses, secondary offenses, and a range of fines and penalties.

However, critics of these laws say that individual states could do more to make drivers less distracted behind the wheel. For example, Connecticut has been the only state recently to qualify for Congressional distracted driving funding because it met strict requirements with progressive fines and didn’t allow for common exceptions.

Many drivers who avoid using their phones while driving still make an exception while stopped at traffic lights. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that this really isn’t any safer. A startling number of in-city accidents occur at intersections and are due to driver decision errors.

Even when your car is stopped, keep your phone safely tucked away! There are still plenty of things that can go wrong when you quickly glance back up at the road after being physically and mentally checked out for even a few seconds.

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