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Good news – the quickest route to a safer fleet is reducing distracted driving. Bad news – it’s 100 times worse than we thought.

Cameron JahnCameron Jahn

Distracted driving is far worse than we thought. How bad? 100 times worse than the most reliable data available. Zendrive’s 2018 Distracted Driving Snapshot reveals that 69-million drivers use their phones behind the wheel every day, far higher than the 660,000 daily distracted drivers reported by government data.  

We also know that we really shouldn’t be playing with our phones while driving, as it contributes to 26 percent of all collisions. But until now, we didn’t have accurate data on the extent of the problem. To mark Zendrive’s 100-billionth mile of driver data analyzed, we tried to quantify how bad the distracted driving problem is in the US.

Read the rest of the study here.

Distracted Driving is Far Worse Than Expected

Bottomline, there’s a lot more driver phone use in the U.S. than officials say:

Compare our findings to previous research by the  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): NHTSA estimates that 660,000 drivers use their phones during daylight hours. Based on our experience on the streets everyday, these numbers seemed low, and our analysis found that they were low, really low.

Nationwide, Zendrive found more driver phone use in our 2018 study than we did in our 2017 study:

100 Billion Miles for Good

Zendrive’s 100-billion miles of driving behavior — far more than any other insurer or automotive analytics company. This data lets us do large-scale analysis and glean powerful insights about driver risk and safety. We found that of these 100-billion miles, at least 3.5-billion of them were driven while by drivers distracted by phone use. Since most insurance and automotive companies don’t measure distracted driving to begin with, and those that do have far less data to work with, they’re missing a key risk factor in today’s drivers.

Our study analyzed 7.1-billion miles further, to update our latest distracted driving study with fresher and deeper data. We covered 4.5-million drivers across all American states and territories, from December 2017 through February 2018. We found that distracted driving is far worse than previously reported.

Here’s what else we found:

Distracted Driving is far worse than expected

At any given hour of the day, an average of 40% of drivers use their phone at least once. (This average goes up to 72% of drivers when looking at drivers who use their phone at least once between 10am-5pm.)

Distracted Driving is far worse than expected

Overall, drivers use their phones for an average of 1-minute, 52-seconds of every hour behind the wheel. At 55 mph, this is like driving 1.2-miles blindfolded, or the length of 21 football fields. However, this stat also takes into account the drivers who don’t use their phones at all. When looking only at drivers who use their phones at least once, this average doubles, shooting up to 3-minutes, 40-seconds of every hour. At 55 mph, this is like 42 football fields blindfolded. Dangerous indeed!

The vast majority of phone use is in the first 5% of a trip, right when people are getting going. The worst time overall for distracted driving is at night, from 9pm to midnight, when drivers use their phones for an average of 30 seconds longer — an increase of 20%. And holidays are even worse. During Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day we found drivers use their phones 15% (or 9 seconds) more than average.

All But One State Got Worse

We also ranked the states in terms of average percent of time people spent using their phones while driving each day, and compared them to their previous rankings. Oregon remains the least distracted state, while Mississippi moved down one spot to become the most distracted state.

Distracted Driving is far worse than imagined

Drilling into some of the largest cities in the country, we also found some startling insights when looking average percent of time people spent using their phones while driving each day. Seattle remains the least distracted city in the country, while Houston took over as the most distracted city.

Distracted Driving is far worse than imagined

Distracted driving is far worse than imagined.

A Way Forward and Tips for Success

So, these stats are pretty grim. But what should we do about it?

For individuals, put your phones down! If you need to set up your music or maps for a trip, do it before you put the car in drive. Finish the text conversation before you go. If your phone has it, put on do not disturb while driving mode, or get an app that does the same. And no matter what, get a phone mount. That way, you don’t have to handle your phone to see your driving directions.

For insurance companies, distracted driving is far worse than your data suggests. Make sure to track distracted driving when creating your risk models! This is an epidemic of unsafe driving behavior. Most companies do not account for at all, while the others are mostly using sparse data to do so. (Zendrive can help.) Offering bonuses or savings based on safe, phone-free driving is also a good step to incentivize safer behavior.

What can legislators and law enforcement do?

For legislators and law enforcement, check the map to see how your state is doing, and take action if needed. Most likely, distracted driving is far worse than you realize. Most distracted driving happens at the beginning of a ride. So, cops can keep an eye on parking lots and other places where drivers depart from. We don’t yet know which types of legislation (if any) has proven most effective. Commissioning a study based on this data would be a good first step.

We have a ways to go before the roads are truly safe. But if we all pitch in (and put our phones down!), we can get there.

Check out 8 smart tips to reduce distracted driving

  1. Hands free – Put your phone in a mount or cup holder while driving. Keep it out of your hands, and stay focused on the road.
  2. Set up your music and maps – The majority of phone use happens in the first 10% of a trip. Take an extra moment to get your technology in order before putting the car in drive.
  3. Finish up before heading out – Send one last text to let your friend know you’re getting behind the wheel and need to put the phone down.
  4. Airplane mode for phones – Use Do Not Disturb mode to block incoming messages, let people know you’re driving and that you’ll be in touch later. iOS 11 devices come with this functionality, while Android users can use an app.
  5. A little help from my friends – Designated drivers help us all get home safely after drinking. If you have passengers, ask them to help you navigate, change the music or respond to texts.
  6. Lock it up – Put your phone somewhere you can’t peek at it, like the trunk, backseat or glove compartment.
  7. Drive time, Zen time – Is a text worth your life, or that of someone else on the road? I didn’t think so. Be patient, and wait until you arrive to read your texts.
  8. Be the example – Speak up if you see someone driving while distracted. Tell them you’re uncomfortable with that behavior. Teach your children to speak up when they see you or a friend distracted behind the wheel.

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Cameron leads Product Marketing for Zendrive. He's a storyteller at heart with an analytical bent.

Cameron leads Product Marketing for Zendrive. He's a storyteller at heart with an analytical bent.