Mobile Phone Users: Driven to Distraction?

Texting while driving ... and other unsafe habits of cellphone usersIt’s pretty well determined by now that the plethora of new communications conveniences that have come on the scene in recent years have done just as much to complicate our lives as to simplify them.

Certainly, they have introduced new types of dangers. Take mobile phones and driving. For those who have heard the sickening cellphone recording of the young driver who has a fatal car accident while discussing wedding plans with her family over the phone … it’s a chilling example of the worst kind of thing that can happen.

But despite the fact that people claim to understand the risks of driving while using a mobile phone, most Americans continue just such behavior, believing themselves to be better than average drivers.

At least, that’s the finding of research firm Harris Interactive, which surveyed nearly 2,200 American adult cellphone users in June 2011.

About two-thirds of those queried in the Harris online survey admitted to using their cellphones while driving. In addition, nearly one in four send or read text messages while they’re behind the wheel.

As stark as those figure are, they are actually down somewhat from an earlier Harris survey conducted in 2009. In that study, ~72% of drivers with cellphones reported that they used them while driving, and nearly 30% texted while driving.

The newer figures remain disconcerting, though, because cellphone distraction is reported to cause more than 300,000 injuries in the United States each year – and several thousand fatalities as well.

A study published by Human Factors Quarterly has concluded that motorists who are engaged in cellphone conversations while driving are actually less capable of handling the wheel than intoxicated drivers with a blood alcohol level exceeding .08.

But back to the Harris survey. It found that ~57% of the respondents consider themselves to be “better than average” drivers (only 1% consider themselves worse than average). And for men, that figure is even higher at 66%. Since it’s basically impossible for two thirds of the male drivers to be above average, clearly the perception is not matched by the reality.

Not surprisingly, some of the more alarming findings from Harris are coming from the younger set. Texting while driving is much more common in this cohort; nearly half of the drivers under the age of 35 reported that they send or read text message while driving.

Oh, and by the way … ~60% of drivers continue to use handheld phones while driving, rather than the hands-free models. (Not that the hands-models have been shown to be that much safer … although that’s what most respondents in the Harris survey believe.)

More of the sobering findings from the Harris research survey can be found here.

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