Splendid Cycles

Phone use study finds Oregon drivers are “least distracted” in America

Posted by on April 18th, 2017 at 9:22 am

Using a cell phone while driving is a dangerous, selfish, and illegal behavior that has become far too common.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

via Streetsblog USA

A company that uses sensors in smartphones to study driving behavior has revealed startling — yet unsurprising — facts about Americans’ selfish attitudes while behind the wheel of their cars: People use their phones during 88 out of 100 trips. When extrapolated out for the entire U.S. population, that number shoots up to about 600 million distracted trips per day.

In what they bill as the “largest and most robust driver phone use study done to date on the planet,” Zendrive analyzed three million drivers and 570 million trips over a three-month period.

While what they found is unnerving to say the least, Oregon drivers came in as the “least distracted” in the entire country. By calculating the average amount of time drivers use their phones everyday divided by the average time they drive everyday, Zendrive determined that Oregon drivers used their phones while driving 3.7 percent of the time. The most distracted state was Vermont, whose drivers used their phones 7.4 percent of the time.


Phone use by state shows that westerners tend to be less distracted.

The study also found that of the ten states with the lowest distraction levels, six have laws that ban hand-held phone use (and so does Vermont, for what it’s worth). Overall, the impact of cell phone laws on driving behavior remains inconclusive.

On a citywide level, Portland came in 10th out of 15 cities. Los Angeles had the most distracted drivers and Seattle came in as least distracted.

Another way to look at the data is that during an hour-long trip, drivers spent an average of 3.5 minutes on their phones. “This finding is frightening,” the report authors said. “Especially when you consider that a 2-second distraction is long enough to increase your likelihood of crashing by over 20-times. In other words, that’s equivalent to 105 opportunities an hour that you could nearly kill yourself and/or others.”

If the performance of Oregon drivers isn’t enough to give you a bit of solace, you might be interested to know that Zendrive isn’t just a faceless company that just crunches numbers. They’re an advocacy group that’s fully behind Vision Zero and they’re actively working to help cities reduce — and eventually eliminate — traffic deaths. “Zendrive is working with communities, local decision-makers, safety experts and driving coaches to use our data to save lives,” their website reads. “If you can measure it, you can manage it.”

And Zendrive’s Director of Public Policy & Government Affairs is Noah Budnick, a veteran active transportation advocate who formerly served as executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and deputy director of Transportation Alternatives in New York City. As a member of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s transition team, Budnick is credited for helping introduce the first Vision Zero policy in America.

Check out the study results and download the full report here.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

BikePortland is supported by the community (that means you!). Please become a subscriber or make a donation today.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • 9watts April 18, 2017 at 9:43 am

    Enforcement seems a very low priority, perhaps because cops themselves are set up to be the most distracted of all given the technology stuffed into their cars. I can’t imagine that has any effect on their predisposition to cite others….

    Recommended Thumb up 13

  • 9watts April 18, 2017 at 9:46 am

    Although the differences between states seem slight, one wonders if there is any way to correlate usage rates and crashes-that-may-be-linked-to-distraction? It also seems like phone-linked distraction in city driving would be far more important than on the freeway or open road.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • bikeninja April 18, 2017 at 9:49 am

    This is terrifying if Portland Drivers are the least distracted, other places must be Death Race 2000 waiting to happen.

    Recommended Thumb up 32

    • Chris I April 18, 2017 at 2:04 pm

      Have you been to Florida? The driving culture there is absolutely nuts.

      Recommended Thumb up 4

      • B. Carfree April 18, 2017 at 2:44 pm

        There aren’t many places where I simply won’t ride, but Florida is one of them. If the blind old folks don’t get you, the angry red-necks will (some of whom are close relatives of mine).

        Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Kate April 18, 2017 at 10:03 am

    “By calculating the average amount of time drivers use their phones everyday divided by the average time they drive everyday, Zendrive determined that Oregon drivers used their phones while driving 3.7 percent of the time.”

    Wait- am I missing something here? So the data assumes that if I have a 10 minute phone call before bed (and that’s my only use of my phone for the entire day) and I drive 10 minutes around the block and leave my phone in my back seat, I’m still assumed to have spent 100% of my time while driving on my phone. It seems like just calculating how much time people drive by how much time a phone is used during the day isn’t a very strong data connection since they could be entirely unrelated… What am i missing here?

    Recommended Thumb up 8

    • 9watts April 18, 2017 at 10:05 am

      I assume they can compare phone in use and phone in motion to calculate those figures.
      Now whether they can differentiate phone in motion while biking or walking from phone in use while driving I don’t know.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

      • John Lascurettes April 18, 2017 at 10:52 am

        Okay, and they know I’m not making this call as a passenger somehow?

        Recommended Thumb up 5

      • shirtsoff April 19, 2017 at 7:56 am

        That’s what I was trying to figure out. Often when I’m a passenger in the car with my partner I assume the role of “DJ” and “navigator” which means fiddling with the phone. Given the methodology of this study I sounds as though it would flag the trip as distracted driving. It may or may not be, but I do feel it saps the study of validity. It’s a good starting point if nothing else and if these potential shortcomings are actually present future studies can improve on the methodology.

        Recommended Thumb up 3

    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty April 18, 2017 at 10:25 am

      Kate: That’s what the article says. What you are (not) missing is that methodology, as described, is totally booooooogus (trying to channel Tom Magliozzi here…)

      Recommended Thumb up 10

      • John Lascurettes April 18, 2017 at 10:53 am

        Yeah, as Vision Zero supporters, they seem to have a biased interest in bloating those numbers. Not saying distracted driving is not a problem, but I don’t trust the data collection on this one at all.

        Recommended Thumb up 8

        • Kate April 18, 2017 at 11:38 am

          Right? I think this is really important data to gather since it’s a huge problem and I don’t know that it helps the cause to use a methodology that is seems like an enormous stretch between their ‘data’ and findings.

          Now if this data was collected by phone in use while in motion (even if it happens to capture passengers), I would be far more interested in these numbers.

          Recommended Thumb up 5

    • El Biciclero April 18, 2017 at 10:43 am

      From the study executive summary:

      “Our data science team looked at the relationship between how long people drove each day and how much time they spent using their phones while driving. They calculated the ratio between the average daily trip time and the average amount of time drivers used their phones each day.”

      So the calculation was done using phone use while driving. What I would like to know is how they determined the difference between passenger phone use and driver phone use.

      Recommended Thumb up 6

      • Kyle Banerjee April 18, 2017 at 10:52 am

        If you have GPS enabled, your phone tries to guess what you are doing. I downloaded my data sometime back to see what it thought.

        BTW, it thinks I drive a lot in this town so I may have helped this stats while riding my bike 🙂

        Recommended Thumb up 1

      • Kate April 18, 2017 at 11:39 am

        Ah,ok! Thanks for going to the source 🙂

        Recommended Thumb up 0

      • enrique April 18, 2017 at 12:41 pm

        I read the methodology.. they say that they detect passengers by which side of the car that the person exits when the trip is concluded.

        Recommended Thumb up 4

        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty April 18, 2017 at 1:05 pm

          That must be why their UK datasets are all munged up.

          Recommended Thumb up 1

  • rick April 18, 2017 at 10:08 am

    Tell that to the drivers at crash corner in Raleigh Hills by the Parr Lumber.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • mh April 18, 2017 at 10:33 am

      I thought that was named Kamikaze Corner. Must have become PC.

      Recommended Thumb up 3

      • dan April 18, 2017 at 11:24 am

        I grew up around there in the 70s/80s, and it’s always been Kamikaze Corner for me and my family.

        Recommended Thumb up 1

      • Middle of the Road Guy April 19, 2017 at 9:59 am

        We’ll just get on the euphemism treadmill.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

        • El Biciclero April 19, 2017 at 3:14 pm

          Let’s see…

          Kamikaze Corner
          Crash Corner
          Collision Corner
          Caution Corner
          Care Corner
          Iffy Intersection…

          Recommended Thumb up 0

  • bikeninja April 18, 2017 at 10:16 am

    I wish the NSA could put their spyware to good use and make these phones self destruct when put to use at speeds of over 15 mph. The downside is I couldn’t use mine on Max anymore, but that is a price I am willing to pay to stop the carnage.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

  • pdxbusman April 18, 2017 at 10:26 am

    Nope! As a TriMet operator, from my elevated perch, I see at least half of drivers next to me on their phones, either talking, texting, or otherwise focused on that little screen. Several times a day I wait at traffic lights behind a motorist, the light turns green, no movement. Seconds pass, no movement. Tap the horn and they finally put down their phone and go. I see phones being operated from dash mounts, on the steering wheel, in laps, on the horn of the steering wheel, in the left hand, in the right hand, in both hands while steering with knees and in the seat next to them. Sorry, this study may have its scientific merits, but the reality on the road, as I see it with my eyes, is quite different.

    Recommended Thumb up 40

    • John Lascurettes April 18, 2017 at 10:55 am

      Same thing from the higher perch on a bike looking into a significant percentage of cars from the bike lane.

      Recommended Thumb up 12

    • Chris I April 18, 2017 at 2:08 pm

      Based on my observations while waiting for a bus on outer Sandy Blvd (where drivers are going 50+ mph, it seems to be about 1 in 5. That’s 20%, while the car is moving at high speed. I know the rate is higher at intersections.

      Recommended Thumb up 4

      • Dan A April 19, 2017 at 7:31 am

        And that’s just measuring at the moment that they drive by. It’s safe to assume that many drivers who aren’t on the phone when they pass that spot are using the phone elsewhere on their trip.

        Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Terry D-M April 18, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Just one more reason not to bike in the South……But seriously, we are the least distracted? Considering all the terrible driving out there, that is more than a bit disturbing.

    Recommended Thumb up 8

    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty April 18, 2017 at 10:57 am

      The main reason I don’t bike in the South is the possibility I’ll have to eat okra. Yuck!

      Recommended Thumb up 5

      • dan April 18, 2017 at 11:25 am

        Delicious! Give it another chance. Unless you don’t like slimy things, in which case I agree you need to write it off.

        Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Middle of the Road Guy April 19, 2017 at 9:39 am

      I think people have a predisposition to think that wherever they are, things are the worse. Worst congestion, highest taxes, most distracted bikers and WORST cycling infrastructure ever!

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Matthew in Portsmouth April 18, 2017 at 10:56 am

    What constitutes use? Before I set off on my morning drive to work, or my evening drive home, I open up the map app and set my destination (which gives me the optimal route home/work avoiding traffic), and my music is streaming while I drive. I don’t answer texts/e-mails, or look at notifications and rarely make or receive a phone call with the hands free mode.

    Does this mean I am “using” my phone while I am driving?

    Recommended Thumb up 5

    • Chris I April 18, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      Possibly, but you are definitely in a minority with your careful use.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Matthew in Portsmouth April 19, 2017 at 9:00 am

        I decided a long time ago that if I was ever a driver in a motor vehicle collision where someone was injured or killed I wanted to be stone cold sober and to have been fully focused on the task at hand (driving). I also avoid speeding (using cruise control most of the time and always on highways), running yellow/red lights, etc. It’s not hard and I usually get to my destination in ample time. It’s not hard.

        Recommended Thumb up 3

    • BB April 19, 2017 at 10:43 am

      If your map is telling you where you’re supposed to go, you are most certainly “using” your phone, and you’re driving while distracted in addition to that.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Adam H.
    Adam H. April 18, 2017 at 10:59 am

    I suspect a good chunk of distracted drivers are Uber/Lyft drivers staring at their phones for directions or looking for their next fare.

    Recommended Thumb up 11

    • rachel b April 18, 2017 at 2:22 pm

      I suspect a good chunk of distracted drivers are any people with phones.

      Recommended Thumb up 6

  • Hello, Kitty
    Hello, Kitty April 18, 2017 at 11:03 am

    In case this story wasn’t disturbing enough, another survey found that 9 out of 10 people admitted using their phone while driving:


    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • Middle of the Road Guy April 19, 2017 at 9:39 am

      Is a stop light okay?

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • BB April 19, 2017 at 10:45 am

        Of course not. If you even have to ask that you shouldn’t be operating a motor vehicle.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

  • HJ April 18, 2017 at 11:39 am

    So to those who don’t know. Which I imagine is most people. There is a bill in the OR Senate right now to address this, SB2. Strikes me like it could use a cheering squad, hint hint.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • soren April 18, 2017 at 1:02 pm

      Passed Judiciary last week and on its way to Ways and Means:


      Please support this bill with written testimony.

      Recommended Thumb up 4

      • B. Carfree April 19, 2017 at 10:20 am

        It’s a shame that our legislature’s commitment to motorist entitlement has led to the amendments that water down the original bill, but I’m not at all surprised. The bill is still better than nothing as amended.

        Now if only we could actually enforce this and other traffic laws. I feel our lack of enforcement is a large part of where the entitlement that motorists display comes from, which in turn keeps us from getting any enforcement or laws with teeth.

        Recommended Thumb up 1

  • GlowBoy April 18, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    I find the study results believable. Here in Minnesota, where there is no handsfree law, and where the study put us more or less in the middle (i.e., nearly twice as distracted as Oregon), people are WAY more brazen about using their phones when they drive. You see it on the streets of Minneapolis way more than you do on the streets of Portland. Not to say it isn’t bad in Portland, but it’s much worse here. And apparently much of the country is significantly worse yet. Yecch.

    I used to oppose handsfree laws such as those in OR and WA on the basis that talking on a handheld isn’t any more distracting than talking on a handsfree phone (which is true), but I’ve come to realize it’s difficult for law enforcement to prove someone was texting while driving, but relatively easier to bust them for using their phone. So the handsfree law is an incredibly powerful enforcement tool.

    Pdxbusman, you may be right that way too many drivers are distracted in Portland – it’s an epidemic everywhere – but you might try driving a bus in a few other states and see how much worse the distraction is everywhere else.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty April 18, 2017 at 4:26 pm

      A law prohibiting all cellphone use may be harder to enforce for hands-free users, but it would not be any less powerful against in-your-hands users. I think the real reason for permitting hands-free cell usage is political. At the time the law was passed (and maybe still today), people were arguing the issue was hands-on-the-wheel/eyes-on-the-road, though we have clear data the real issue is mental distraction.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

      • Middle of the Road Guy April 19, 2017 at 9:46 am

        agreed. This is why I no longer do the NYT crossword while driving. “what’s a 5 letter word for accident that starts with ‘c’ “?

        Recommended Thumb up 0

      • GlowBoy April 20, 2017 at 12:10 pm

        Well, of course a law prohibiting all cellphone use would be preferable. But a handheld ban is much more politically doable, which is why it’s what got passed in OR/WA and what’s being currently proposed in the MN legislature. No question a total ban would be preferable, and may eventually happen.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

  • idroid April 18, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    The product is too dangerous to operate and invites abuse.

    I can’t believe Apple and Google are not doing more to ensure the safety of their customers.

    Seems worthy of class action.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Middle of the Road Guy April 19, 2017 at 9:45 am

      Not sure I agree. Many things “invite abuse”…but we don’t sue the makers because it is up to the personal responsibility of the voluntary purchaser to govern their own actions.

      Do we sue local brewers when someone gets drunk and gets in an accident? Isn’t a tasty, local brew a product that “invites abuse”?

      Many of us are quite capable of driving and not texting.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

      • GlowBoy April 20, 2017 at 12:11 pm

        Actually, under Dram Shop laws, establishments that serve alcohol to clearly intoxicated patrons can be held liable for their actions.

        Recommended Thumb up 0