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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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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….
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.
This is terrifying if Portland Drivers are the least distracted, other places must be Death Race 2000 waiting to happen.
Have you been to Florida? The driving culture there is absolutely nuts.
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).
“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?
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.
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.
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…)
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.
From the study executive summary:
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.
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 🙂
Ah,ok! Thanks for going to the source 🙂
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.
That must be why their UK datasets are all munged up.
Tell that to the drivers at crash corner in Raleigh Hills by the Parr Lumber.
I thought that was named Kamikaze Corner. Must have become PC.
I grew up around there in the 70s/80s, and it’s always been Kamikaze Corner for me and my family.
We’ll just get on the euphemism treadmill.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The main reason I don’t bike in the South is the possibility I’ll have to eat okra. Yuck!
Delicious! Give it another chance. Unless you don’t like slimy things, in which case I agree you need to write it off.
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!
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?
Possibly, but you are definitely in a minority with your careful use.
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.
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.
I suspect a good chunk of distracted drivers are Uber/Lyft drivers staring at their phones for directions or looking for their next fare.
I suspect a good chunk of distracted drivers are any people with phones.
In case this story wasn’t disturbing enough, another survey found that 9 out of 10 people admitted using their phone while driving:
Is a stop light okay?
Of course not. If you even have to ask that you shouldn’t be operating a motor vehicle.
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.
Passed Judiciary last week and on its way to Ways and Means:
Please support this bill with written testimony.
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.
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.
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.
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’ “?
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.
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.
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.
Actually, under Dram Shop laws, establishments that serve alcohol to clearly intoxicated patrons can be held liable for their actions.