Talking not texting accounts for most phone use, drivers say

January 24, 2019

Drivers say they use their smartphones more often for calls than for texting, or reading or sending emails, a nationwide survey of smartphone users by IIHS indicates.

From January to March 2018, IIHS surveyed adult drivers who own smartphones to see how they use them while driving. Eighty percent of the 800 drivers surveyed reported talking on their phone while driving in the previous 30 days, and 30 percent said they talk on the phone daily. Most drivers who reported talking on the phone said they only do so hands-free using voice commands.

When IIHS conducted the survey, 15 states and the District of Columbia banned talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving. Georgia in July 2018 became the 16th state with a hand-held phone ban. Texting is banned for all drivers in 47 states and D.C.

Thirty-one percent of respondents in states without a hand-held phone ban reported that they sometimes engage in hand-held conversations, compared with 14 percent of drivers surveyed in states with a hand-held phone ban.

Thirty-eight percent of drivers surveyed said they had read emails or texts while driving during the past month, and a third surveyed reported that they sent emails or texts. This percentage is in line with the 2017 Traffic Safety Culture Index survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finding that about a third of respondents said they had typed or sent a text or email while driving in the past 30 days.

"Manipulating a cellphone increases the chances of a crash, so it is worrisome that drivers admit to texting, even though the practice is banned in most states," says Jessica Cicchino, IIHS vice president for research, who co-authored the study with Ian Reagan, a senior research scientist with the Institute.

Middle-age drivers gab most often. Sixty-four percent of drivers age 30 to 59 reported talking on their phone a few times a week or more either hands-free or hand-held, compared with 44 percent of drivers ages 25-29, 37 percent of drivers ages 18-24 and 36 percent of drivers age 60 and older.

In the survey, men were 22 percent more likely to report making phone calls a few times a week or more while driving in the past 30 days than women.

Smartphone ownership in the U.S. is widespread. In 2018, 77 percent of the U.S. population owned a smartphone, up from 35 percent in 2011, according to the Pew Research Center.

Percentage of respondents who engaged in three cellphone behaviors in the preceding month by driver characteristic

IIHS national survey of smartphone users, 2018

Drivers reporting various types of smartphone use in past 30 days

IIHS national survey of smartphone users, 2018

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