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Distracted Driving Crossing Age Boundaries

Craig McClellan

Behavior that was once associated with young people is a growing problem among older drivers. The use of cell phones for texting or accessing the internet is on the rise among drivers 30 years of age and older. Cell phone ownership is still rising dramatically, and the result may be an increase in car accidents caused by distracted drivers. The increase was documented in a survey conducted by State Farm and released in a distracted driving report this week.

Twice as many drivers use smart phones for connecting to the internet while driving as did in 2009. This form of distracted driving is a significant threat to motorists and pedestrians. While many states have now passed bans on texting or using cell phones for web surfing while operating a motor vehicle, the behavior continues to grow. More drivers are turning to hands-free devices, but there is little evidence that such devices alleviate the safety concerns of distracted driving.

In 2009, drivers over the age of 30 lagged far behind younger drivers in terms of smart phone ownership. The gap has virtually disappeared for those in the 30-49 age range. In 2009, 47 percent of drivers aged 40-49 owned smart phones. The number is now 82 percent. Drivers aged 18-29 and 30-39 both have smart phone ownership levels at 86 percent. Access to smart phones while driving is a temptation that many appear unable to ignore.

With nearly one-quarter of drivers admitting to using their phones to access the internet while driving, the increase in smart phone ownership has grave implications. Ninety percent of survey respondents labeled the act of sending a text while driving as either very distracting or somewhat distracting. Using a cell phone to view the internet is hardly distinguishable from texting in terms of the attention it requires. Safety experts need to find some way to convince people that an act that they know is distracting can wait until they are not driving.