The United States Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released a research note on the prevalence of drivers using hand held devices while driving. NHTSA is tasked with keeping the roads safe. It does so by conducting research on driver behavior and traffic safety, enforcing safety performance standards for motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment and providing information to consumers and other road users.
The note is based on a survey by the National Center for Statistics and Analysis which along with NHTSA is part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The survey, the National Occupant Protection Use survey (NOPUS), is the only nation-wide probability based survey of device use conducted in the United States. The NOPUS is based on in-person observation taken by surveyors at intersections during daylight hours. The information is only recorded from stopped vehicles by trained volunteers and the data collected includes such information as age, gender, race and vehicle type (car or truck).
Perhaps counterintuitively, the NOPUS found no statistically relevant increase in the use of drivers text messaging or visibly manipulating electronic devices with the rate increasing only marginally from 1.3 percent in 2011 to 1.5 percent in 2012. Driver’s hand-held cell phone use remained steady at 5 percent. The rate of drivers holding a phone directly to their ear while driving also stayed at 5 percent. This figure translates into 66,000 drivers driving while holding a phone to their ear at any given daytime moment during 2012. The statistics also mean that at any given daytime moment in 2012 9 percent of drivers were using some type of device.
The NOPUS also took into account the demographics of drivers. It found that there was a significant difference depending on gender with female drivers being more likely to be using a cell phone while driving. 6 percent of female drivers held a phone to their ear while driving while only 4 percent of male drivers were observed to be holding a phone to their head while driving. It also found that cell phone use while driving was also higher among younger drivers. Drivers 16-24 years old were most likely to be using a cell phone while driving while those 70 years or older were the least likely to be using a cell phone while driving. Six percent of drivers 16-24 admitted to holding a phone to their ear while driving while only one percent of drivers 70 or older were seen doing the same thing making the age gap significantly wider than the gender gap when it comes to predicting who is talking and driving.
The age gap however was much more apparent when looking at drivers who were visibly manipulating an electronic device while driving, the category that includes text messaging. There was a sharp drop off in drivers who admitted to visibly manipulating a phone while driving based on age, with 3 percent of drivers aged 16-24 doing so, 1.4 percent of drivers 24-69 and only 0.2 percent aged 70 and older. This gap did not occur when looking at drivers speaking with a visible headset where the percentages were very close between the different age groups, a small gap only occurring between the 24-69 and the 70 plus groups.
As of August, 2013 no state had banned all cell phone use by drivers, however eleven states, including New York, had banned the use of cell phones without some kind of hands free device. A driver can be pulled over solely for using a phone without a hand held device, without there being any other traffic violation. A total of forty one states, including New York, and the District of Columbia ban text messaging while driving. In New York the fine for texting or using a cell phone without a hands free device ranges from 50 to 150 dollars for a first offence plus points added to the drivers license.
Distracted driving can lead to a number of dangerous situations, including motor vehicle accidents, pedestrian collisions, even death resulting from a serious accident during which the driver was using a mobile device. Although not all states have implemented tougher distracted driving laws, maintaining focus while behind the wheel is in the best interests of all those sharing the road.
The NHTSA study can be found here.