14 May 2014

New Study Finds 40% of Americans Driving Distracted By Mobiles & Surprising Data On Who’s Most Dangerous

In a new study by Internet Marketing Ninjas, 40% of Americans admit to having driven while holding a mobile phone, in the past 30 days. We also discovered surprising demographic data: the 18-24 year olds were not the most dangerous age group of drivers, but were actually a lot safer than others!

Here are the overall results based on 1009 responses, without any demographic segmentation:

Have you held a cellphone while driving a motor vehicle, in the past 30 days? Results for respondents with demographics. Weighted by Age, Gender, Region. (1009 responses)   Order statistically significant.  No I haven't: 48.5%. Yes I have: 39.7% I don't drive or don't have a phone: 11.7%.

Have you held a cellphone while driving a motor vehicle, in the past 30 days?
Results for respondents with demographics. Weighted by Age, Gender, Region. (1009 responses)
Order statistically significant.
No I haven’t: 48.5%.
Yes I have: 39.7%
I don’t drive or don’t have a phone: 11.7%.

I’ll present an overview of the key findings, then address the methodology.


Key Findings Of The Study

First, the youngest American drivers are not the most dangerous. It’s their post-college and early-career peers aged 35-44 that are the most likely to drive while on their mobile.

Would you have guessed that individuals aged 18-24 would be dramatically safer than those aged 25-34, and even marginally safer than those 35-44? We certainly didn't anticipate it!

Would you have guessed that individuals aged 18-24 would be dramatically safer than those aged 25-34, and even marginally safer than those 35-44? We certainly didn’t anticipate it!

Second, there are large geographic disparities in terms of distracted driving. The safest drivers were in the Northeast, with 60.3% saying that they had not driven while holding a phone. Drivers in the South were the most dangerous, with 47.5% saying they had driven while holding a phone vs 41.7% saying that they had not (the remainder don’t drive or don’t have a mobile phone). This was the one region where more respondents admitted to driving distracted than those who denied it.

There's lots of cellphone uptime for drivers down south!

There’s lots of cellphone uptime for drivers down south! The Northeast is much safer, by comparison

Another geographic difference was found amongst suburbanites, with suburbanites in the US South being the most likely to drive while holding a phone.

Third, amongst people earning $25,000 – $49,000 a year, women were markedly safer than men.

 In the most dangerous group of 35-44 year olds,

Women earning $25K-$49K/year were markedly less likely to drive while distracted than men earning the same amount.

While women were generally found by our study to be safer drivers, the disparities between the genders in general fall within the margin of error. The difference between the genders in this revenue group was the greatest and beyond what can be explained by the margin of error.


Methodology of Our Study On Mobile Phone Use While Driving

The survey results are based on a panel of 1009 participants, with a Root Mean Square Error percentage of 2.6% difference vs the US Census.

Participants were recruited through Google Consumer Surveys, whose technology helps minimize sampling bias. These participants are consumers of online content who pay for access with their time, i.e. by participating in surveys which researchers pay for. Google and the online content publishers share the payment.

Some obvious limitations of the survey include

– The fact that it skewed male 10% more than the US Internet Population, according to Census data. This limitation is parried by the fact that age and regional skews were much less, and this is reflected in the fact that the Root Mean Square Error was only 2.6% as indicated above. We believe that this is the more important indicator to look at, as well as the margin of error which is only 3.2% +-.

– That there may be an incentive to lie and claim to behave more safely than is the reality. Unfortunately this will always be the case with regards to taboo behaviours. Nevertheless this study is useful in suggesting a likely baseline – it’s likely that at least this many Americans drive while distracted. It’s unlikely that fewer Americans drive while distracted.

This limitation may have significant impact on the finding that young drivers were a lot safer than peers. Since 18-24 year olds are often aware that their age group is perceived as dangerous drivers, there may be a stronger incentive for them to lie and say that they don’t behave this way.

– Some areas (e.g. the US South) and ages (e.g. 35-44 year olds) may consider this behaviour less problematic than others and therefore more willfully admit to it, than peers in other groups. Followup studies could seek to ascertain attitudinal differences, and interpret the results of this study accordingly.

– Distracted driving may not always be dangerous driving. It’s possible that some people hold their phones only at traffic lights – e.g. while the car isn’t moving, a relatively low danger situation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is a common situation, as anyone can tell who has waited for a distracted driver to advance when the light turned green.

While some respondents may have meant only that they use their phones at lights – but not when the car is moving – this still isn’t entirely safe. Using a mobile at a red light often leads to the driver using their mobile once the car starts moving again – e.g. the need to finish writing the text message, find an address etc.


Conclusion

It’s scary to think that more than 1 in 3 Americans drive distracted by their cellphones. A good start for many of us would be to get an app that locks our phones down when we’re driving, such as those in this article.

More broadly, we should be thinking about why we always need to be talking, texting or distracting ourselves. My father in law jokingly says that we’re uncomfortable with our own thoughts (or lack thereof ;) ), but it’s seriously cause for concern that we’re so addicted to the communication enabled by these devices that we endanger our lives and those of people around us for their sake. What can be done to make the What’sApps of the world less addictive and cure ourselves of our mobile addictions?

Any journalists or bloggers who want firsthand access to the data are welcome to contact the author by email at gabg [.a]t imninjas dawt (0/\/\ or over Twitter @GabGoldenberg . You’re welcome to embed the images above (just click copy image URL and use that) or any you generate from the data in your own articles. Our one request is that credit is given to this page when citing the study or using its graphics.

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