The most common device-based activity while behind the wheel that drivers admitted to was programming a navigation app.  -  Photo: Canva

The most common device-based activity while behind the wheel that drivers admitted to was programming a navigation app.

Photo: Canva

Gig economy workers are four times as likely as other workers to use smartphone apps regularly while behind the wheel, according to a new survey from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Moreover, parents are 50% more likely to routinely making video calls, check weather reports, and other types of smartphone-enabled distractions than drivers without children 18 or younger.

Simply put, the variety of smartphone apps has grown significantly in recent years, and new research indicates they are a growing distracted driving concern —especially among specific groups such as rideshare and delivery drivers as well as parents. 

The research showed that the smartphone-based activities gig-economy workers performed behind the wheel went well beyond communicating with customers and navigating to pickup and delivery locations using the app provided by their employer.

Experts hypothesize that perhaps these workers are more tempted to conduct other business or find ways to entertain themselves while driving because their jobs force them to spend so much time in the vehicle. IIHS says ridesharing and delivery companies should put in place or strengthen policies that mandate safe practices for necessary operations and restrict device-based behaviors that are not an essential part of the job.

Fleet drivers need to be aware that distracted driving remains a major hazard on our nation’s roadways. Research shows they are sharing the road with many people who are tempted by smartphone apps. That’s why fleet operators need to urge drivers to practice defensive driving at all times.

Anything that diverts the driver’s attention — eating, adjusting the radio, personal grooming — can increase the risk of a crash. But tasks involving mobile phones and other electronic devices can be both more demanding and more tempting than other common distractions.

For example, the nationwide survey of 2,000 drivers found that nearly two-thirds reported performing one or more distracting activities of any type most or every time they drove over the past 30 days. Some 50% said they performed at least one device-based task during most drives. 

Typical device-based activities included making phone calls, streaming music, and reading texts, but the most common was programming a navigation app. While far fewer people reported playing games on a mobile device while driving, an alarming 8% admitted to doing so regularly.

Drivers surveyed tended to embrace the hands-free feature for device-based activities when the capability was available. Approximately eight out of 10 drivers who said they regularly programmed their navigation app and seven out of 10 who said they regularly read and sent texts while driving reported that they used voice commands to do so.

While hands-free operation is an improvement as drivers can keep their eyes on the road, IIHS notes that it doesn't eliminate distraction altogether. Cognitive distraction — taking one’s mental focus off the task of driving to something else such as navigation programming — is still a safety risk. 

Some 3,142 people in the U.S. lost their lives in distracted driving collisions in 2020 alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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