Survey: Behind-the-Wheel Web Use Is Up, Even for Older Crowd

Texting behind the wheelIt’s a good bet to guess that entering any cross-section of America—the movie theater, the grocery store, the mall—means a lot of beeps, chimes, clicks and rings from smartphones.

And it’s a near-sure bet that those smartphones will be clutched in the hands of a tech-savvy Millennial.

But in a new State Farm survey, data shows that there’s a fast-growing chance that it’ll be grandma’s or grandpa’s eyes glued downward on a smartphone screen.

That’s not so alarming on its own, but what is alarming is that it means more of them may be using the phones to browse websites and snap selfies while behind the wheel, according to the car insurance carrier.

The fight against distracted driving is heating up across the U.S. as the public mulls what kind of smartphone use (if any) is safe once the car engine turns on.

State Farm said that its survey reveals some disturbing parallels: “mature drivers [are] catching up with phone-obsessed youth” in smartphone ownership at the same time that all drivers are increasingly using their smartphones to access the Internet while driving.

Overall, twice as many drivers report using their smartphone to surf the Internet while driving compared to five years ago, according to the insurer.

Smartphone Ownership Is Up, Even Among Those at Retirement Age

State Farm said its survey data of thousands of consumers shows that smartphone ownership rose in a two-year period amongst all age groups—and that it’s not the youngest people that are getting smartphones at the fastest pace.

In fact, the youngest people surveyed represented the smallest percentage-point increase for owning a smartphone between 2011 and 2013.

Seventy-eight percent of those surveyed between 18 and 29 years old owned a smartphone in 2011; that figure grew to 86 percent in 2013.

But that jump of 8 percentage points for those youngest respondents paled in comparison to other age groups, all of which saw at least a 15 point jump in that time period.

According to State Farm’s survey conducted this year, respondents in the 30- to 39-year-old age group and 18- to 29-year-old age group now own smartphones at the same rate: 86 percent.

The survey’s results are broken down in a graph to the right:

Smartphone Ownership by Age Group
Age Group 2011 2013 Increase
18-29 years old 78% 86% 8%
30-39 years old 60% 86% 26%
40-49 years old 47% 82% 35%
50-64 years old 44% 64% 20%
65+ years old 23% 39% 16%

Drivers Responding to Campaigns against Texting

State Farm also surveyed consumers about distracting behaviors behind the wheel. With the findings showing a high rate of those surveyed who believe reading and sending texts are distracting, it appears as though the nationwide battle against texting behind the wheel is turning public opinion against the distracting habit.

“Legislation, enforcement, education and technology all have a role to play in making our roads safer for all who share them,” Chris Mullen, State Farm’s director of technology research, said in a statement.

Most states in the U.S. enforce laws that bar texting while driving. The latest state to pass a law against texting behind the wheel was Florida, where the anti-texting law passed last month also carried penalties that could inflate the price of Florida auto insurance for violators.

“Drivers who break traffic laws get ticketed for things like speeding, running red lights and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs—and now texting while driving is also illegal,” Lynne McChristian, the Florida Representative for the Insurance Information Institute (III), said in a statement.

Nearly 3 out of every 4 of those surveyed by State Farm said that they “strongly agree with laws or regulations prohibiting texting or emailing behind the wheel.”

State Farm also said that 44 percent of those surveyed said they were “extremely likely to support technology that would prevent texting or emailing on a cell phone while driving.”

Anti-distraction technology has popped up everywhere this year, from products offered by car insurers to features from telecommunications companies.

Survey: Nearly a Quarter of Drivers Access Internet While Driving

Last year, State Farm touched on what it called the “troubling” rise of “webbing while driving” that it said was fueled by the spread of smartphones that can now distract drivers with texts, streaming music, emails and unfettered access to websites.

Sometimes, it’s not even a smartphone at question; a San Diego woman was ticketed this month for wearing her Google Glass while driving.

This year, State Farm revisited “webbing behind the wheel” and found worse trouble: the 13 percent of drivers saying that they use their smartphones for web access while behind the wheel nearly doubled since 2009.

Overall, according to the 2013 survey, nearly 1 in every 4 drivers access the Internet while behind the wheel, which was nearly double the rate in 2009.

“Much attention is paid toward reducing texting while driving, but we must also be concerned about addressing the growing use of multiple mobile web services while driving,” Mullen said.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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