State Farm survey: Distracted driving isn't just for kids anymore

When people think of distracted drivers they typically think of teenagers who can’t separate themselves from their iPhones long enough to make a proper right turn.

But as high-tech devices become increasingly everyday items for many people, the age of those involved in accidents caused in part by an addiction to a mobile device seems to be going up.

"It's growing at an alarming rate,” Eric Geiger, a State Farm agent in Green Township said. "The use of smartphones in general is on the rise, especially in the community (of people ages) 40-plus."

A July 2013 survey of nearly 1000 motorists by State Farm highlights a growing safety concern: a significant increase in the percentage of drivers who own smartphones, particularly among drivers age thirty and older. 

  • Ages 18-29: 78 percent in 2011 to 86 percent in 2013
  • Ages 30-39: 60 percent in 2011 to 86 percent in 2013
  • Ages 40-49: 47 percent in 2011 to 82 percent in 2013
  • Ages 50-64: 44 percent in 2011 to 64 percent in 2013
  • Ages 65+: 23 percent in 2011 to 39 percent in 2013

In addition to being more comfortable with technology, people now have more things capable of distracting them.

"There's the opportunity for more distracted driving," Geiger said.

The study shows those who admit to look at social media feeds on platforms like Facebook or Twitter while behind the wheel has nearly doubled from 9 percent in 2009 to 17 percent in 2013.

The new stats aren’t surprising to Gary Brown, who took a pledge not to text and drive.

"I see accidents about to occur, with people using their phones…I decided I wasn't going to be one of them in an accident," he said.

The numbers aren’t limited to those who are checking out their messages on Facebook, though. People are admitting to using their phones to access all sorts of apps and websites while driving.

In 2009, roughly 13 percent of surveyed drivers said they took their eyes off the pavement to scan the Internet for a variety of reasons.

Today, that number is up to 24 percent.

Tragically, not all of these accidents are fender-benders or damaged paint jobs.

On an Arizona highway on May 6 , truck driver Jorge Espinoza, 33, was browsing the Internet on his smartphone while driving a semi-truck when he crashed into three police cars, according to police.

Police officer Tim Huffman, 47, was killed in the crash.

"As smartphone ownership increases for all age groups, the safety community must ensure we are keeping pace with our understanding of the types of distractions drivers face," said Chris Mullen, director of technology research at State Farm. "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."

While the data seems to tell drivers otherwise, using multiple web devices, texting and using a mobile device just doesn't seem "distracting" to many of the people who are getting behind the wheel.

State Farm asked drivers to share how distracting they find a variety of common occurrences:

  • Hand-held cell phone: very distracting – 34 percent, somewhat distracting – 46 percent
  • Hands-free cell phone: very distracting – 14 percent, somewhat distracting – 43 percent
  • Sending a text while driving: very distracting - 76 percent, somewhat distracting – 14 percent
  • Reading a text while driving: very distracting – 62 percent, somewhat distracting – 27 percent
  • Talking with a passenger: very distracting – 4 percent, somewhat distracting – 41 percent
  • Reaching for a non-moving object: very distracting – 22 percent, somewhat distracting – 62 percent
  • Attending to children in the back seat: very distracting – 41 percent, somewhat distracting – 29 percent
  • Pet in lap: very distracting – 53 percent, somewhat distracting – 20 percent
  • Reaching for a moving object: very distracting - 61 percent, somewhat distracting – 31 percent

Brown says while he’s committed to the cause of driving "distraction free," he’s having a difficult time getting the attention of his children.

"I'm on them all the time about texting and driving," the concerned father said. “They do it anyway.”

Even Geiger admitted to occasionally browsing the Internet when behind the wheel.

At least he did in the past. That all changed, he said, when he became a father.

“Once (my daughter) came into (my family’s) lives, we got very serious about it.”

About The Survey (From Start Farm)

In August 2009 and 2010, and in July 2011, 2012 and 2013, The State Farm Strategic Resources Department used an outside panel vendor to conduct an online survey of U.S. consumers ages 18-plus. Survey responses were received from approximately 1,000 consumers each year, who identified themselves as having some insurance and financial responsibility for their household. Only responses from consumers who had a valid driver's license, owned a cell phone, and reported driving between 1 and 80 hours per week were used when reporting the findings of behavior-based questions.

Responses from all respondents were used for the attitudinal questions. State Farm Consumer Consultants is an online community sponsored by the State Farm Strategic Resources Department and managed by Communispace. The 300 Consumer Consultants participants are influential, involved, activist consumers, who offer advice and perspective on a range of insurance and financial services topics. Opinions voiced may not be representative of all consumers. However, the comments can provide insight into how consumers feel about the topic at hand.

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