As Ohio lawmakers debate whether to outlaw texting while driving, researchers from across the country said many young drivers are engaging in an equally as dangerous activity while driving: using mobile phone applications.
Motor-safety advocates and law enforcement officials said they are troubled by new research that indicates many owners of smartphones operate mobile apps while behind the wheel.
“When they are not paying attention to what’s going on down the road, that’s just as dangerous as a drunk driver,” said Sgt. Joseph Gebhart, with the Dayton Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that about 35 percent of the college students who own a smartphone admitted that they use mobile phone apps while driving. Among the 93 survey respondents, 10 percent said they often or always used their mobile phone apps while driving, and about one-third said they used them sometimes.
The findings were consistent with a survey conducted in June 2010 by the Columbus-based Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.
Nationwide’s survey of more than 1,000 adults found that about 25 percent of cell phone users, and 37 percent of users under the age of 35, download mobile applications to their phones.
Of those people who download apps, more than one in four admitted to using those apps while driving, according to the survey.
Bill Windsor, Nationwide’s associate vice president with the office of consumer safety, said an estimated 20 percent of motor vehicle crashes are caused by distracted driving.
While drivers can be distracted by all kinds of activities, Windsor said texting and using mobile apps are particularly dangerous because they result in a combination of risky driving behaviors.
As drivers text and use apps, they remove their hands from the wheel, take their eyes off the road and focus their attention on manipulating their electronic devices.
“Texting is one of the worst distractions,” Windsor said, “and use of these mobile apps have some of the same characteristics.”
Lauren McCartney, a researcher who conducted the college study, said the cognitive and visual distraction of using phone apps seems far more dangerous than simply talking on the phone.