Technology

The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

Quit Googling yourself and drive: About 20% of drivers using Web behind the wheel, study says

Car-phone

Forget texting and driving or talking on the phone and driving: Those extremely dangerous habits are old hat.  The new worry, says a survey released by State Farm this week, is what the insurance company cleverly calls "webbing while driving."

That means looking up Web pages, following driving directions, reading and composing e-mails, checking Facebook, and twiddling with smart-phone apps -- activities that require sustained concentration and multiple key presses.

Among the 912 smart-phone users State Farm surveyed, more than 19% of them "webbed" while driving, the company said. For those who prefer fractions, that's one smart-phone-equipped driver out of every five.

"We are working to prevent crashes and save lives," Cindy Garretson, State Farm's director of auto technology research, said in a statement. "This research takes us one step closer to understanding the driver distractions that affect everyone on our roadways."

As an insurance company, State Farm has an interest in minimizing accidents and damage payouts, but who can argue with minimizing hazardous driving?

If it makes a difference, the survey respondents said they tend to "web" while in heavy traffic, stopped at a red light, during daylight hours, or on long drives on the open road. Which covers just about everything, thanks.

As a caveat, the survey does not necessarily reflect trends in the greater population: Because it was conducted online, it is more likely to include tech-savvy individuals and younger people. And surveys without random samples are not generally scientific.

However, anyone driving in a busy city such as Los Angeles knows that every month, more people can be seen looking at their phones while on the road. What used to be the familiar sight of people holding handsets up to their ears has been replaced by the sight of people gazing down at their screens while stopped at lights. When a red light turns green, people often sit until they're honked at.

As the State Farm study points out, close to 40% of Americans have smart phones now, and that number is growing fast.  And though we are frequently reminded not to text and drive, the safety message may not have caught up to the current technology. 

What about "don't e-mail and drive," or "don't Google and drive," or "don't play Angry Birds and drive"?

RELATED:

Teens, driving and texting are a bad mix

Disney cracks down on texting behind the wheel

Insurance industry wants to block texting while driving

-- David Sarno

Image: A car in the 2008 Houston Art Car Parade. Credit: Mr. Kimberly


 
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