A new study on distracted driving finds that two out of three teens admit to using apps while driving, a result which safe driving advocates see as disturbing but indicative of how teens are currently misperceiving the dangers associated with mobile phone use while driving.
This week marks National Teen Driver Safety Week in Canada, with the focus squarely set on distracted driving behaviour among teens. Police in Windsor, Ontario, are taking part in the awareness-raising event by handing out “positive message” tickets about the dangers of distracted driving.
“We are giving out tickets with positive messages about distracted driving,” said Const. Cealia Gagnon, in conversation with the Windsor Star. “This means zero tolerance for texting and driving, impaired by drinking or drugs or any other distractions we may have while driving.”
But a new study conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) in the United States concludes that driving while using mobile apps has become just as significant a problem as texting while driving -if not more.
The study found that while 27 per cent of teens reported testing while driving, a full two thirds (68 per cent) stated that they use apps while driving for purposes such as looking at or posting on social media, searching for and playing music and checking navigation.
“This research identifies teens’ underlying beliefs about key driving habits, providing insight into what teens really believe,” said Dr. Gene Beresin, senior advisor on adolescent psychiatry with SADD and Executive Director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Teens as a whole are saying all the right things, but implicitly believe that using their phone while driving is safe and not a stressor or distraction behind the wheel.”
A majority (58 per cent) of teens admitted to using navigation apps while driving and nearly half (46 per cent) said they used music apps while driving.
Importantly, the study also picked out a key difference between how teens talk about distracted driving and what they actually believe about the practice. Using an implicit association test to delve into automatic, gut-level reactions and unconscious biases about distracted and dangerous driving, the study found that while most teens explicitly agree that using apps while driving is dangerous, their implicit assumptions showed otherwise, namely, that 80 per cent of them felt app usage while driving to be “not distracting.”
“Any behaviour that takes your eyes and focus off the road, even for mere seconds, can impair your ability to react to hazards and other vehicles,” said Dr. William Horrey, Ph.D., principal research scientist at the Liberty Mutual Insurance Research Institute for Safety. “It’s not the apps themselves that are dangerous, but how we, and our teens, interact with them while behind the wheel.”
The results are echoed by a recent Canadian survey by Parachute Canada, a national organization dedicated to preventing injuries, in conjunction with National Teen Driver Safety Week. The survey found that 39 per cent of Canadians aged 16 to 24 admit to texting behind the wheel and 71 per cent do not consider mobile phone use while driving to be distracting.