Mobile Apps Tempt College-Age Drivers into Distraction

Many college students juggle their coursework with part-time jobs, busy social lives and other obligations. But a packed schedule is no excuse for these students to endanger themselves and others by driving distracted – a risk too many college-age students take despite being aware of the consequences, a new survey says.

According to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) survey, more than a third – 35 percent – of college students use mobile phone applications while driving. And they can’t even use ignorance as an excuse.

“The participants seemed to understand that using mobile apps while driving is dangerous, and some have even experienced motor vehicle crashes while using mobile apps, but they continue to do it,” said UAB student Lauren McCartney, who conducted the survey.

Among survey respondents, one in 10 “often,” “almost always” or “always” use mobile apps while driving; more than one-third use them “sometimes.”

The survey does not represent a random sample; it included 93 UAB students who own a smartphone and use Internet-based applications on it at least four or more times per week. Even so, David Schwebel, Ph.D., director of the UAB Youth Safety Lab, sees reason to be concerned.

“Driving a car is an incredibly complex task for humans to complete safely. There are enormous cognitive, perceptual and motor tasks an automobile driver must complete, frequently very quickly and with split-second precision,” Schwebel said. “A driver using his or her smartphone is clearly distracted, both visually and cognitively, and really should not be driving.”

While 33 states ban texting while driving, no state bans the specific use of mobile Internet with the penalty of a primary or secondary offense.

“The technology is evolving so rapidly that science hasn’t caught up to looking at the effects that mobile app usage can have behind the wheel of a car,” McCartney pointed out. “But 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.”

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