Have Smartphones Created Stupid Drivers?

A decade has passed since Steve Jobs announced the launch of the first iPhone. It wasn’t the first version of a smartphone, but it certainly made smartphones a big part of our culture and set into motion the handheld revolution that has occurred over the last ten years.

Just four years after Jobs presented the iPhone, around one-third of Americans used a smartphone. By 2015, four years after that, Pew Research found that nearly two-thirds of adults in the U.S. relied on smartphones. Smartphones have become a main portal into the digital world for so many Americans. We rely on our phones to read the news, shop online and communicate with others. But it hasn’t been all good news.

The emergence of popular mobile devices has also put us into a compromising position when it comes to road safety. The lure of our beckoning smartphones is so strong that many of us can’t resist the temptation to use it – even when we are behind the wheel of our automobile.

By ignoring the road ahead to check our email or send a text message, we greatly reduce our ability to focus on the task of driving. As a result, we have experienced a dramatic increase in the incidence of distracted driving.

Distracted driving is a problem among all age groups, though teens have been the subject of particular scrutiny in the media and among safety advocates. There’s good reason for singling out younger drivers for their reluctance to put away their phones. A poll by Common Sense Media found that around 70 percent of teens admitted to using mobile apps on their phones while driving.

There have been several surveys and studies that back this alarming statistic. AAA claims that up to 60 percent of crashes involving teens are caused by distracted driving, citing cell phone use as one of the main contributing factors in teen distraction.

But it’s not just teens that admit to using their phones behind the wheel. Common Sense Media also found that over half of parents have admitted to checking their phones while driving. Approximately half of teens surveyed said that they had actually witnessed their parents using their phones while behind the wheel.

To understand just how serious even the briefest of encounters between a driver and their smartphone can be, consider this fact: If you are traveling at 55 miles per hour and look at your phone for just 5 seconds, you will have traveled the entire distance of a football field without looking at the road.

Lawmakers, law enforcement officials and safety advocates are struggling to find adequate ways to fix the problem of distracted driving as it relates to cell phones. Apps that prevent drivers from operating their phone while driving are still little more than theoretical at this point, which means that it will be up to drivers to do their part and put away their mobile devices when they’re operating a vehicle.

There are no signs that smartphone use will be declining in the years to come. In fact, it is more likely to increase. To make sure that more smartphones don’t equal more vehicle crashes, drivers should cultivate better driving habits and encourage their children to do the same.

Smartphones have made us more connected, but they have not made us smarter drivers. That’s a task that will be left up to us.