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More Drivers Than Not Are Fiddling With Their Smartphones

Another argument for self-driving cars: Distracted driving is now the norm, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to improve any time soon.

More Drivers Than Not Are Fiddling With Their Smartphones
[Top Photo: Robert Crum via Shutterstock]

What won’t people do on a smartphone while behind the wheel? Apparently not a lot.

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New research conducted by AT&T shows that 7 out of ten people “engage in smartphone activities while driving.” That includes 61% of drivers who text while piloting a car, 33% who check their email, and 10% who do video chats.

For the purposes of the survey, “while driving” is defined as being behind the wheel. That is, texting while waiting on a stop light counts. Responsible drivers surely wait until they’ve stopped before checking their messages or firing up Skype, but as we know from the drivers we see every day, staring at screens as they hurtle through busy traffic, most drivers are not responsible drivers.

nito via Shutterstock

So why? Why are we such terrible drivers? Why do we text, or even eat cereal while we engage in the most dangerous activity of the day?

Perhaps it’s because we feel too safe in a modern automobile. In fact, your car is probably one of the most comfortable places you spend any time–completely with noise-blocking design, power steering, automatic gearboxes, cruise control, all manner of environmental controls, and enough cup holders to host a cocktail party. All of these lull us into thinking we’re in a safe and stable domain. We treat our cars like an extra room in our home, only one that takes us places. We treat them more like railway trains or airplanes. The driving part is almost ancillary to the whole endeavour.

AT&T’s report corroborates this theory:

The belief that both things can safely be done at once is the primary reason behind video chatting, responding to/sending texts, taking photos and taking/watching videos.

The numbers for all “smartphone activities” are similar, with 25%-30% of respondents claiming they can safely do both at once. Activities include texting, tweeting, taking selfies, and responding to emails. And fully 36% keep their phones in a cup holder, to make sure it’s close to hand.

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I used to drive a Morris Minor, and it rattled and shook whenever I took it above 60mph. You could switch on the radio, but you wouldn’t often hear it. And the manual transmission, still found on most cars outside the U.S, kept you engaged with the act of driving. It’s hard to text when you need both hands to control the car.

Safety-wise, the Morris Minor was probably a nightmare, but the lack of distractions, and the relentless reminders that you were speeding over undulating asphalt served to make collisions less likely.

What’s the solution? More comfort. The most dangerous part of a modern car is the driver. Cars are virtually self-driving already, with careless humans responsible only for choosing speed and direction. Let the cars take over completely and swaddle the occupants in yet more luxury. The driver’s cocoon will be complete, while the passengers and cyclists outside can enjoy their lives without fear of being mown down by a Facebook post.

About the author

Previously found writing at Wired.com, Cult of Mac and Straight No filter.

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