The percentage of drivers who used their smartphones to snap pictures and shoot video increased significantly last year when compared with previous years while motorists who engaged in activities such as texting, accessing the internet and talking on a hands-held phone while behind the wheel held steady or declined slightly according to State Farm's annual distracted driving survey out Monday.
Still, phone use by drivers continues to be a problem as more than half of drivers who own smartphones use them while behind the wheel.
"This finding is of great concern," said State Farm spokeswoman Holly Anderson. "We know that today's drivers are faced with a multitude of demands on their attention from the critical task of driving. We ask all drivers to take responsibility by adopting safer driving habits."
In an encouraging sign, drivers under 30 were less likely to read social media networks, respond to emails or access the internet while behind the wheel. Still, there is big disconnect as an overwhelming majority of drivers find such activities as distracting or very distracting and increase the likelihood of being in a crash but engage in the risky practices anyway.
In the survey of 962 drivers who held a valid driver's license and owned a smartphone, 35 percent of drivers said they had read or sent a text message while behind the wheel even through 95 percent of drivers said the activity was distracting. When it comes to accessing the internet, 96 percent of drivers said the activity was distracting yet one in three drivers engaged in the dangerous behavior.
The survey of self-reported behavior found an uptick in behaviors such as reading email (23 percent last year vs. 26 percent this year), updating social media networks (16 percent vs.19 percent) and taking pictures with smartphones (19 percent vs. 23 percent). More than 14 percent recorded video with a cellphone, up from 10 percent in 2015. The survey found that 10 percent used their phones to play games while driving.
For drivers under 30, behaviors such as texting fell from 64 percent to 61 percent, internet use fell from 54 percent to 50 percent and reading social media networks fell one percentage point from 44 to 43. The percentage of young drivers reading email dropped from 41 to 39.
Among drivers who abstain from talking, texting, social media, browsing the internet and taking pictures or video, most said those activities were dangerous to themselves, their passengers and others on the road. That trumped whether the activity was legal or not.
But those who do use their smartphones had their own reasons.
Among drivers who update social media posts while motoring, 35 percent said "it's a habit." More than 25 percent said they do it because they are bored while driving or trying to stay in touch with family or friends.
The reasons were nearly the same for those who text while driving: habit, keeping in touch with family and friends, fending off boredom and efficiently using their time.
The top reason given for shooting video was seeing something to share while those accessing the internet said they wanted to look up the answer to a question and that it is a habit.
State Farm found that 91 percent of survey respondents owned a smartphone, up from 88 percent in 2015 and 52 percent just five years ago. The proliferation of smartphones increases the opportunities to take part in distracted driving behaviors.