Friday, March 4, 2011

19% admit Web use while driving

About one in five drivers admitted in an informal online survey to surfing the Internet while behind the wheel despite a national campaign to curb distracted driving, according to insurance giant State Farm.

* Some drivers say they access the Internet when they are stopped at a light or stuck in traffic.

By John Spink, Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Some drivers say they access the Internet when they are stopped at a light or stuck in traffic.

Some drivers say they access the Internet when they are stopped at a light or stuck in traffic.

State Farm, which found the dangerous behavior in the unscientific survey of 912 licensed drivers in November, says it will conduct a detailed study this year.

In the November survey, more than 19% reported accessing the Internet on a cellphone at least once a week while driving. That compares with 74% who reported making or receiving calls at least once weekly while driving and 35% who reported sending or receiving text messages at least that frequently.

"That 19% might be underestimating the actual use of smartphones to access the Internet while driving, because the majority of the respondents were in the age range of the 30s," says Cindy Garretson, director of auto technology research at State Farm. "The largest users of cellphones tend to be the younger-age population. We would be very interested to know what that number would be if the focus was on the young adult market."

Most surfing drivers say they do so while stopped at a traffic light or stopped in traffic. Sean Black, 38, of Springfield, Ill., says he often surfs the Internet while driving. "I don't read in-depth stuff, but I Web and drive," he says. "I'll check different stuff about sports. I'm not saying it's the smartest thing in the world ... but I guess I just do it anyway."

Black, communications coordinator for the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, says his wife, Jennifer, abhors the practice but he doesn't know what it would take to get him to stop. "The easy answer would be an accident or near-accident," he says. "But part of me wonders, depending on how bad it would be, if even that would do it. I think it's one of those things where you just don't think anything's going to happen."

ROAD DISTRACTIONS: Most teens texting, talking

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has made distracted driving a major focus. Last year, 11 states enacted bans on texting while driving; 30 states prohibit it for all drivers, and eight more have banned it for novice drivers.

In 2009, 5,474 people were killed and 448,000 injured in distracted driving crashes; 18% of the fatalities involved cellphones as a distraction, and the under-20 age group was the most heavily involved, federal data show.

Dakota Woodward, 16, of Crestview, Fla., says he knew of efforts against distracted driving but kept accessing the Internet while driving until last December, when he was in a near-crash while updating his Facebook status on his iPhone. "I was updating my status, telling everybody where I was going," Woodward says. "I was still looking at my phone, trying to look at the road at the same time."

"I think our generation is just so technologically advanced, and we need to keep in touch all the time," says Woodward, a sophomore at Crestview High School.

"I don't look at my phone anymore," he says. "It's more important to keep my eyes on the road and my hands on the wheel than to text somebody back, or update my status, or see what somebody else is doing on Facebook. It scared me so much, I don't text and drive or Facebook and drive anymore, or do anything with my phone."


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