Study: 57% of Collisions Involve Phone Use

The annual Zendrive report is as shocking as ever.

Collisions statistics


Zendrive makes the software that tells fleet operators and insurance companies how people drive, using smartphone sensors like the accelerometer, gyroscope, and GPS. Every year they aggregate the data from the billions of miles its users travel to do a report, which Treehugger dutifully covers with titles like Study Finds That 29 Percent of People on the Road Drive Like Jerks and Drivers Look at Their Phones on 88 Percent of Trips.

This year, the study is as shocking as ever. Key finding: "Upon analyzing a subset of over 86,000 collisions from a dataset of hundreds of thousands of collisions, Zendrive found that 57% of all crashes involve phone use."

phones before collsions
The minute before collisions. Zendrive

Fully 16.8% or one in six collisions involved the use of a cellphone less than five seconds before the crash, and can be "attributed directly to a phone-related distraction." They also report that "with 57% of all collisions involving at least one instance of phone use, we found that collisions related to phone usage are widely underreported."

Blast off!. Zendrive

Since there are fewer drivers on the road, there is more room for aggressive driving and rapid acceleration, which Zendrive pairs with the increased phone use to explain the 63% increase in collisions per million miles traveled, compared to January. "Hiding in plain sight, these subtle changes in our behavior can become the perfect storm as these shifts remain unaddressed."

Zendrive doesn't tell us how many collisions involved pedestrians and bikes, but in New York City for example, the number of deaths has gone up 69%, the highest number since 2006, even though the volume of traffic plummeted. Because people are driving faster, the rate of death per 1000 crashes has almost doubled.

car ad
Car ad doesn't have any cars. Lloyd Alter

Another factor in the rising number of deaths is likely the rising number of light trucks (the industry term for SUVs and pickups) on the road. Car dealers don't even bother showing cars anymore; it is all crew-cab pickup trucks, which together with SUVs now make up 70% of the car marketplace.

Trends in collisions
Trends in collision data. Zendrive

Zendrive also doesn't break out whether the collisions involve light trucks or regular cars, but one can just imagine the 75% of collisions that involve hard braking, and what happens when that giant wall of metal hits someone.

These data are all really scary, especially when we think about coming out of the pandemic, with more people cycling and walking, more trucks speeding, more phone usage.

Quiet Streets
Quiet street in Toronto. Lloyd Alter

There have been a lot of changes in cities during this pandemic. In many places, there were bike lanes installed, and quiet streets implemented, all to create more space for pedestrians and cyclists. Where changes weren't made, the rate of crashes and deaths went up.

Who knows what is going to happen when this is all over, if the number of cars on the road will go back to where it was, or stay low because so many people are working from home. If drivers will slow down and stop looking at their phone so much or if they will stay as aggressive. Whether people will get off their bikes and back on to transit. So much has changed, and it is likely that the way our roads are managed is going to have to change too.