Distraction Is Dangerous

Fndings from a new survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project report that adults are just as likely as teens to have texted while driving and are substantially more likely to have talked on the phone while driving. In addition, 49% of adults say they have been passengers in a car when the driver was sending or reading text messages on their cell phone.

Overall, 44% of adults say they have been passengers of drivers who used the cell phone in a way that put themselves or others in danger. Beyond driving, some cell-toting pedestrians get so distracted while talking or texting that they have physically bumped into another person or an object.

Adults And Cell Phone Distractions (% of Group Experienced or Done)

 

Distraction

% of Segment Respondents

All Adults

Cell Users

Texters

Been in car when driver sending or receiving text on cell phone

49%

54%

65%

Been in a car when driver used cell phone that put themselves of others in danger

44

47

54

Talked on a cell phone while driving

61

75

84

Sent or read a text message while driving

27

33

47

Bumped into person or object while distracted talking or texting on phone

14

17

22

Source: Pew Research, Spring Assessment Survey, June 2010

The Pew report prefaces the results by noting that, In the era of smart phones, instant and ubiquitous access to information, news, and games on handheld devices draws users into deeper engagement with their mobile devices.

According to Pew, 82% of American adults (those age 18 and older) now own cell phones, up from 65% from the first reading in late 2004. 58% of adults now send or receive text messages with their cell phones. By comparison, a September 2009 Pew Internet survey found that 75% of all American teens ages 12-17 own a cell phone, and 66% text.

Many of these cell owners take advantage, says the report, of the technology by performing tasks in all kinds of places, which, at times, is distracting and dangerous because it takes place when attention is best focused elsewhere. Studies at Virginia Tech and elsewhere show that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers. According to research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2008 alone, there were 5,870 fatalities and an estimated 515,000 people were injured in police-reported crashes in which at least one form of driver distraction was reported.

Seven states and the District of Columbia now ban all handheld cell use while driving, 28 states ban all cell use by novice drivers, 18 states ban all cell use for bus drivers, and 28 states ban texting while driving.

Some of the key findings from the survey include:

  • 47% of all texting adults say they have sent or read a text message while driving. That compares to 34% of texting teens ages 16-17 who said they had "texted while driving" in a September 2009 survey
  • This means that 27% of all American adults say they have sent or read text messages while driving, compared to 26% of all American teens ages 16-17 who reported texting at the wheel in 2009
  • 75% of all cell-owning adults say they have talked on a cell phone while driving. 52% of cell-owning teens ages 16-17 reported talking on a cell phone while driving in the 2009 survey
  • Among all adults, that translates into 61% who have talked on a cell phone while driving, which compares to 43% of all American teens ages 16-17 who said they had talked on their phones while driving in the 2009 survey
  • 49% of all adults say they have been in a car when the driver was sending or reading text messages on their cell phone. The same number of all teens ages 12-17 said they had been in a car "when the driver was texting."
  • 44% of all adults say they have been in a car when the driver used the cell phone in a way that put themselves or others in danger, compared to 40% of teens who said they had been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a dangerous way.
  • 17% of cell-owning adults say they have physically bumped into another person or an object because they were distracted by talking or texting on their phone. That's 14% of all American adults who have been so engrossed in talking, texting or otherwise using their cell phones that they bumped into something or someone.

More details from major findings include these notes...

47% of texting adults say they have sent or read a text message while driving:

  •  Male texters are more likely to report texting at the wheel; 51% of men who use text messaging say they have sent or read messages while driving while 42% of women texters say the same
  • Those in the Millennial generation (ages 18-33) are more likely than any other age group to report texting while driving. While 59% of texting Millennials say they have sent or read messages at the wheel, 50% of text-using Gen Xers (ages 34-45) and 29% of texting Baby Boomers (ages 46-64) report the same

75% of cell-owning adults say they have talked on a cell phone while driving:

  • Men are more likely than women to report this distraction; 78% of cell-owning men say they have talked while driving, compared with 72% of cell-owning women
  •  80% of cell-using Millennials say they have talked on their mobile phones while driving. However, Gen X stands out as the group most likely to chat at the wheel when compared with older generations. While 86% of Gen Xers who own cell phones talk while driving, just 73% of Boomer cell owners and 50% of those age 65 and older say they talk on their phones while at the wheel

49% of all adults say they have been in a car when the driver was sending or reading text messages on their cell phone:

  • Men and women are equally as likely to say they have been in a car when the driver was texting. However, non-white American adults are more likely than whites to say they have been passengers of texting drivers. While 56% of black adults and 58% of Hispanic adults say they have been passengers of texting drivers, 46% of white adults report the same
  • The likelihood that someone will be a passenger of a texting driver decreases dramatically with age. While one in three (75%) Millennials say they have been passengers in a car with a texting driver, 59% of Gen Xers, 37% of Boomers and just 18% of adults age 65 and older say they have had that experience
  • Parents are considerably more likely than non-parents to say they have been passengers of distracted drivers; 58% all parents say they have been passengers when the driver was texting, compared with 45% of non-parents

44% of all adults say they have been in a car when the driver used the cell phone in a way that put themselves or others in danger:

  •  Men are more likely than women to report being passengers of cell-distracted drivers (48% vs. 40%) 
  •  Millennials and Gen X are about equally as likely to report being passengers of drivers who use the cell phone in a dangerous way (59% vs. 52%). However, both groups are considerably more likely than older generations to report this experience. Just 37% of Boomers say they have been passengers in a car while the driver used a cell phone in a dangerous way and only 21% of adults age 65 and older say they have had that experience

The physically-distracted crowd is also slightly more urban and well-educated than others. Cell owners who live in cities are more likely than rural residents to bump into other people and things (20% vs. 13%). And cell owners with college degrees are more likely than those with high school diplomas to be looking at their screens when they should be looking at their surroundings (20% vs. 14%).

The findings for those ages 18 and older come from a nationwide phone survey of 2,252 American adults conducted between April 29 and May 30. 1,917 were cell owners and 1,189 used text messaging. The margin of error in the full sample is two percentage points and in the cell subpopulation is three percentage points.

The findings for teens are based on previously released data from a separate nationwide telephone survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research International between June 26 and September 24, 2009, among a sample of 800 teens ages 12-17 and a parent or guardian. 

For a full discussion of the results from the Teen survey, please see the "Teens and Distracted Driving" report here, and to read more about the Adult Report, please visit PEW here.

 

Tags: mobile, research
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3 comments about "Distraction Is Dangerous ".
  1. Bob Kiger from Videography Lab , July 27, 2010 at 2:11 p.m.

    Great article and spot on the problem. We would contend that the issue of distraction is also dangerous wherever you are in a high traffic environment . . . like walking in a crowd or bicycling on a public bike path with pedestrians and skateboarders and baby buggies.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , July 27, 2010 at 3:30 p.m.

    Now is when insurance companies can step in. Even more laws, though needed, won't do it. When insurance companies stop paying for accidents and reinsurance denied for a certain period of time caused by those who can be proven with cell phone use with laws kicking in with the elimination of under insurance and lost licences, then maybe this practice will be stopping. And remember about the under insured. They have a minimum payout, own nothing and you will lose all you have if you do the same.

  3. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting , July 27, 2010 at 7:31 p.m.

    On occasion I'll purposely bump into a person walking obliviously into my path while texting or chatting away on their phone and say to them "lucky for you I wasn't a car".