A new survey from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that smartphone app usage among gig-economy workers is 4 times more likely to occur than among other drivers. The study also reveals that parents are nearly 50% more prone to routinely making video calls, checking weather reports, and other types of smartphone-enabled distractions than drivers without children 18 or younger.
“The explosion of smartphone features and services has not only created new forms of driver distraction, but also a new group of rideshare and delivery drivers whose jobs require them to interact with their phones while they’re on the road,” IIHS President David Harkey said.
Just in 2020 alone, more than 3,000 people died in distraction-related crashes, which account for 8% of all traffic-related fatalities, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Since it is difficult to determine if distraction contributed to a crash, that percentage could be much higher.
Since the new abundance of smartphone apps in recent years the potential for smartphone driving-related distractions has increased, along with it. Anything that diverts the driver’s attention — eating, adjusting the radio, putting on makeup — can increase the risk of a crash. But tasks involving smartphones and their apps can be both more demanding and more tempting than other common distractions.
IIHS surveyed more than 2,000 drivers nationwide about what secondary tasks they perform while driving. Tasks were separated into ordinary activities and those that involved a mobile phone. The device-based activities were further categorized into basic talking and texting and smartphone-based activities like programming a navigation app or checking a social media feed. Drivers were also asked whether they performed the task using a hands-free feature for some device-based activities
Over the past 30-day period, nearly two-thirds of the participating drivers reported performing one or more distracting activities of any type most or every time they drove. Half said they performed at least one device-based task during most drives. Some of the common device-based activities included making phone calls, streaming music, and reading texts, but the most common was programming a navigation app.
An astonishing 8% admitted they play games regularly while they’re behind the wheel.
Most of the drivers said they usually used the hands-free feature for device-based activities when the capability was available. 8 out of 10 drivers said they regularly programmed their navigation app while driving, and 7 out of 10 said they regularly read and sent texts while driving but said they use voice commands.
“Hands-free operation is generally believed to be less dangerous since drivers can more easily keep their eyes on the road,” said IIHS Research Associate Aimee Cox, the lead author of the study. “However, it doesn’t eliminate the distraction altogether.”
Drivers between the ages of 18 and 34 were more likely to use smartphone apps while driving than drivers ages 35-49. One interesting part of the study found that the parents of children 18 and younger were 65% more likely than other drivers to perform non-device-based tasks, 31% were more prone to any device-based distraction, and 47% more likely to engage in smartphone-enabled secondary activities.
Out of all the participants surveyed gig-economy workers were more than twice as likely as other drivers to engage in distracting activity and 4 times as likely to regularly use smartphone apps while driving. They were also more likely to do smartphone-based activities that weren’t related to the app provided by their employer.
In response, ride-sharing and delivery companies should put in place or strengthen policies that mandate safe practices for necessary operations and restrict device-based behaviors that are not an essential part of the job.
“These results show that nobody is immune to distraction and suggest that hands-free capabilities may be making us a little too comfortable using our phones and other devices behind the wheel,” said Harkey.
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