Smart phones are now widely used by all age groups, and the common temptation to sneak a peek behind the wheel poses a major safety concern. Photo: State Farm.

Smart phones are now widely used by all age groups, and the common temptation to sneak a peek behind the wheel poses a major safety concern. Photo: State Farm.

A newly released report from State Farm concludes that the percentage of drivers who access the Internet on their phone while driving has nearly doubled over the past five years, rising from 13 percent in 2009 to 24 percent in 2013.

The survey also found that use of hands-free cell phones while driving has increased, while the percentage of people talking on a hand-held cell phone or texting while driving has become stagnant over the past three years.

These findings were included in State Farm’s annual research report on distracted driving.

The July 2013 survey of nearly 1,000 motorists highlights a growing safety concern: a significant increase in the percentage of drivers who own smart phones, particularly among drivers age 30 and older.

"As smart phone 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 much of the distracted driving focus has been on young people, the data indicate that the percentage of motorists who own smart phones is increasing for all ages:

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

Drivers surveyed were asked to share how distracting they find a variety of common occurrences:

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

When asked for their opinion on ways to encourage drivers to be more engaged in the task at hand, 74 percent of drivers surveyed strongly agree with laws or regulations prohibiting texting or emailing behind the wheel. However, more than half believe that laws governing cell phone use while driving are enforced to little or no extent. To a lesser degree, 44 percent of survey respondents were extremely likely to support technology that would prevent texting or emailing on a cell phone while driving.

"State Farm continues to support a multi-pronged approach to encouraging more engaged driving," Mullen said. "Legislation, enforcement, education and technology all have a role to play in making our roads safer for all who share them."

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 and older. Survey responses were received from approximately 1,000 consumers each year. Respondents 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 one and 80 hours per week were used when reporting the findings of behavior-based questions. Responses from all respondents were used for the questions related to attitudes.