Smartphone Apps Causing Car Crashes
According to recent University of Alabama at Birmingham survey, 10 percent of students said they use apps often, almost always, or every time they drive. Another 33 percent of the 93 students surveyed said they sometimes use apps while driving.
Each participant owns a smartphone and uses mobile apps at least four times a week. Ten of the students were involved in a car crash while using apps during the last five years, and three students had been in two crashes.
"What really stood out was the number of participants who verbally reported understanding that using mobile Internet while driving was dangerous, but continued to do it," said Lauren McCartney, the study's researcher, who plans to present the findings in August at the American Psychological Association convention in Washington, D.C.
Ironically, apps are emerging to help phone app addicts behind the wheel, including "Textecution" and Cellcontrol.com, which disable a phone's Internet and texting services when in a vehicle moving faster than 9 miles an hour.
IZup holds texts, e-mails and calls until a driver is finished with the trip, and Sprint's Drive First app detects when a vehicle is moving and sends calls to voicemail and blocks texts.
But McCartney said it's not enough, and she recommends banning smartphone use altogether for drivers.
"Something needs to be done because in psychological terms, Internet use involves substantial cognitive and visual distraction that exceeds talking or texting, making it much more dangerous," she said.
The National Safety Council reports 1.6 million crashes a year involve cell phone use, including 200,000 crashes caused by texting.
The correlation between distracted driving and car accidents hasn't gone unnoticed. In addition to the expected public service announcements, car companies, wireless carriers and even celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Justin Bieber have all started campaigns asking people not to text and drive.
It's hard to tell if these campaigns are getting through to drivers. In March, Consumer Reports found nearly two-thirds of survey respondents under age 30 used a cell phone while driving in the last 30 days, and 30 percent had texted while driving during that time.
Still, campaigns against app and internet use while driving are likely to be the next target of distracted driving ads.
What also may be next are new laws. Cell phone-related crashes have inspired 34 states to ban texting behind the wheel and 30 states to ban any cell phone use by new drivers. But no law stops a driver from fiddling with Facebook or playing "Angry Birds" while cruising down the highway.
The survey pool was small -- less than 100 students, all in one age group and all living in one city. But the results are likely to shock at least a few states into considering tougher laws against distracted driving. Or at least stir up a few more public service announcements, this time aimed at apps.