Friday, October 28, 2016

Let’s talk about cellphone distractions

What is the problem with cellphones and driving? Is it talking on them or everything else? I think it’s the latter, but a recent survey tells a different story.

According to a recent survey conducted for Canadian Automobile Association South Central Ontario, nearly 1 in 3 Ontarians (32 percent) admit to distracted driving as a result of a mobile device. I suppose the key word here is “admit.”

I’m skeptical of this survey because of the top 10 reasons for distracted driving by mobile device: 
  1. Someone has called (44 percent)
  2. Emergency purposes (33 percent)
  3. Have to get in touch with someone I am meeting (27 percent)
  4. Someone has texted (26 percent)
  5. Have to talk to spouse (21 percent)
  6. Have to talk to parents (17 percent)
  7. Able to multitask (15 percent)
  8. Use for work (11 percent)
  9. Bored at red light (11 percent)
  10. Have to talk to children (9 percent) 
Half of these explicitly involve voice calls. Where are the apps? And check out #1 and #4. Someone else called/texted them, absolving them of blame. Emergency purposes? Able to multitask? Bored at red light? What do those even mean?

We’ve been talking on cellphones for a long time now. Bluetooth capabilities are becoming standard in new cars for the purpose of transforming our phones into a hands-free device. So why is distracted driving a relatively new issue for transportation agencies and safety groups?

Smartphone technology that has reduced voice calls. Let me explain why I think that way.

Cellphones have been around since the 1980s and reached mainstream status in the early 2000s. According to data from CTIA – The Wireless Association, cellphone subscriptions in the United States at that time reached nearly 141 million, which was slightly less than half of the population. But in 2003, there were more than 158 million subscriptions, more than 54 percent of the population and qualifying cellphone usage as “mainstream.”

Talking on a cellphone has been common for most people since the early 2000s. However, government attention to cellphone distracted driving didn’t really occur until about 2009. In Ontario, cellphone-use while driving was banned in October 2009. Around the same time, President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting federal employees from texting while driving on government business or with government equipment. States and cities started adopting similar ordinances for the general population during this time frame.

Perhaps not coincidental is this stat from comScore: 



Although cellphones have been popular since the early 2000s, smartphones didn’t start catching on until about 2008 or 2009. The first iPhone was released in 2007, and Android would release its first smartphone a year later.

Since then, smartphones have become more accessible, and the number of apps has increased at breakneck speed. Personal computers have become nearly obsolete because of smartphone technology.

Let’s wrap this back around to the survey.

Most of the reasons given for distracted driving in the survey involve talking to someone, but none of them explicitly claim using an app while driving. However, data suggests that we are talking less on the phone. A study done by Attentiv reveals that 32 percent of people would rather communicate via text than talk over the phone. Compared with texting, emailing and social networking, phone calls fell behind approximately 30 percentage points.

I’m guilty of this. I rarely talk on the phone, using text messaging instead. Since texting and driving is extremely dangerous, I activate an auto-reply text that reads “Currently driving. I’ll text you back when I’m stopped.”

However, I’m not so wise when it comes to my apps. To start with, I always have my Waze app going. There’s really no need to mess with it once it’s on, but sometimes your eyes will naturally wander to the moving, lit-up screen.

I also have a podcast app that I listen to in the car. Sometimes I have to switch episodes when one is complete, and that transition is not as smooth as switching radio stations on a standard car stereo.

Oh! And what’s that? Never mind. It’s just one of the many notifications that will pop up on my screen throughout my drive, usually notifying me of breaking news, sports scores, or new Candy Crush lives available.

And those are just the distractions of a smartphone. Here’s a list CAA came up with to reduce other distractions: 
  • Turn off mobile devices.
  • Stow and secure loose objects.
  • Prepare children with everything they need.
  • Preset the climate control and radio.
  • Preprogram your route on GPS.
  • Allow phone calls to go to voicemail.
  • Don't text, surf the web or read emails.
  • Avoid eating, drinking or smoking. 
Wow. Considering all the distractions, it seems like a miracle we arrive at our destination safely every day. We as a society may not be perfect with our driving, but all things considered, we’re not doing a bad job either.