Drivers riding new wave — surfing behind the wheel

Brent Jennings, PE
Highway Safety Manager

Surfs Up … and no it does not involve your surf board or the ocean.

A recent survey conducted by State Farm indicates the number of Americans who are surfing the web behind the wheel has doubled in the past five years. Nearly one in four, or 24 percent of drivers, is reading or responding to email, and checking social media sites. That's up from 13 percent in 2009. Among drivers 18 to 29 years of age, the number rose from 29 to 49 percent.

While most state laws address distracted driving focus on texting, the rapid growth in the use of smart phones, particularly by drivers 40 and older, points to the need to ramp up efforts to educate this segment of the population about distracted driving. Simply put, the latest survey findings confirm that distracted driving isn't a "youthful problem." For drivers ages 40 to 49, the percentage owning smart phones rose from 47 percent in 2011 to 82 percent in 2013.

For those 50 to 64 years of age, ownership went from 44 to 64 percent, and for those 65 and older, it increased from 23 to 39 percent. Despite the up tick in the number of motorists using their cell phones to access the Internet, texting behind the wheel rose slightly over the past five years from 31 to 35 percent of all drivers. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, the number that report texting and driving fell from 71 to 69 percent.

Campaigns focusing on the dangers of texting while driving may be contributing to the change. The latest Governors Highway Safety Association distracted driving report released earlier this year found that 47 states and DC now have specific laws prohibiting the risky behavior of texting, and this includes Idaho. Of those states, 41 ban texting by drivers (that's up from 28 in 2010) while just eight address both texting and handheld cell phone use. No state has a total ban.

States are also stepping up efforts to educate the public about the threat of distracted driving. Currently, 47 states and DC, up from 37 states in 2010, have developed campaign messaging unique to their jurisdiction. Many also are using social media, including Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to get the message out to the motoring public. States' use of these outreach channels has jumped 125 percent in the past three years.

For an overview of state distracted driving tactics, download the 2013 Distracted Driving: Survey of States. The State Farm survey results are available here.

Distracted driving is a growing issue for highway safety and our environment of instant communication compounds the problem. Making the daily commitment of “I choose not to surf the web and drive” will go far in helping Idaho achieve the ultimate goal of Towards Zero Deaths.

Published 12-6-13