"Phone Addicts" May Have Killed Over 6,000 American Pedestrians Last Year

CC BY 2.0. Intel Free Press/wikipedia

A shocking Zendrive study finds people on the phone 10 percent of the time, but hey, they think they are safe drivers.

ZenDrive makes software for fleet operators that uses smartphones to monitor how people drive, and every April they analyze the billions of miles of driver data they collect. I have always been amazed that people who know that their phone is tracking their habits still do the things that they do, but that is likely because they are what Zendrive now calls "phone addicts" who can't help themselves. From this year's study (PDF):

Phone Addicts are glued to their phones, so they're more distracted, more dangerous, and more likely to cause a crash. They pick up their phones four times more than the average driver, use their phone six times longer than the general population, and are on the road longer than any other category of drivers. Phone Addicts are growing at a rapid pace, too. In just one year, the number of hardcore Phone Addicts doubled. Today, one in every twelve drivers on the road is a Phone Addict. But if these trends continue, as many as one in every five drivers could be in the phone addict category by 2022.

“I wish I was better at not being distracted by wanting to constantly change songs...I do not text and drive, but I like to FaceTime my friends while driving since it makes time go by faster.”

Zendrive Study

Zendrive 2019 study/CC BY 2.0

Zendrive tried to figure it why this is happening by also doing a Distracted Driving Survey where they talked directly to drivers. They have found that these drivers are actively ignoring the road for 28 percent of the time they are driving, spend 1.5 more time on the road than the general population, and "are more of a public danger than drunk drivers."

The survey of drivers found:

  • 85% of respondents acknowledged distracted driving is a problem
  • 90% claimed to be safe drivers, but...
  • 47% admitted to using phones 10% or more of the time while driving, classifying them as ‘Phone Addicts.’

“I really do not think that using my phone is safe at all but for some reason I keep coming back to it.”

Everyone is so sure they are above average.

What we concluded from our survey data is that no one readily accepts they’re capable of putting others at serious risk. All of us want to believe we’re safe while on the road. But how safe are we really? Our blatant overconfidence paired by a relentless addiction to stay connected is clear.

The Zendrive report refers to a 2006 study that found that cell phone drivers were just as bad as drunks, more likely to crash, slower to hit the brakes. But that study is from before the iPhone was released and the smart phone revolution started, so I suspect the situation is a whole lot worse today, especially since their new Distracted Driving study finds:

...the larger the screen, the more distracted the driver. As phone screens have gotten larger, drivers can’t help but look at their screen while behind the wheel. As iOS screen sizes grow larger, distracted driving rates rise dangerously in parallel. While our data can't point to screen size as the driving cause of distraction, the correlation is worrying.

Zendrive isn't even talking about the giant distractions being built into every car now, turning dashboards into even bigger iPhones.

Zendrive also found that phone addicts used their phones for 6 minutes or more every hour. "This is almost double last year's amount of distraction, when we found habitual phone users spending an average of 3 minutes, 30 seconds on their phones each hour."

The report concludes that "we are at a crucial moment in the fight against driver phone use" with new technologies like 5G. Smartphones will also become a part of this fourth industrial revolution, becoming faster and bigger than ever before. But will our addictions grow over the next decade, too? They worry that "the distracted driving epidemic, aka ‘this generation’s drunk driving’, is increasing along with the rates of collisions and pedestrian deaths."

At the end of the report, Zendrive goes through its methodology and there is some surprising information. They monitor 60 million drivers, and in this study, monitored 4.5 billion miles over 92 days.

Phone use while driving is detected when the driver handles the phone for a certain period of time for various purposes such as talking, texting, or navigating. For privacy purposes, reported numbers do not differentiate between different purposes or apps; when the car is in motion the data considers all touching or moving of the smartphone as a driving distraction. Zendrive’s algorithms are able to differentiate between drivers and passengers.

These people know this app is in their phones and they do all this anyway; I would have thought that this would have a moderating effect on their behaviour, making the situation far, far worse than this study even shows.

Surely, if Zendrive can figure out who is driving and who is a passenger, then Apple and Android can too; there is really no excuse not to modify the operating systems so that the phone doesn't function when a car is in gear. The study notes that "last year, 6,227 pedestrians lost their lives to the hands of drivers who were most likely driving under the influence of a smartphone." The number is an inference from another article, but Zendrive knows their data.

How is this allowed to happen?