Teen Driver Safety Week: Teens Apping While Driving
Although teens say they think using apps while driving is "dangerous," tests show that they still feel driving while apping is not "distracting."
"We were surprised to find a disconnect between the dangers associated with 'apping' while driving, while a majority see 'texting' as dangerous," says Dr. William Horrey, Ph.D., principal research scientist at the Liberty Mutual Insurance Research Institute for Safety. Horrey notes that app interaction is like texting; it requires both visual and mental attention as well as physical manipulation.
According to research conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), while 27 percent of teens today still report texting and driving, a bigger concern is that two out of three teens (68 percent) admit to using apps while driving. In fact, when asked to rank the driving behaviors they perceived to be most dangerous, looking at or posting to social media apps ranked much lower as compared to texting and driving or driving under the influence of alcohol, for example.
To complement the more traditional, quantitative research, the study also incorporated implicit association testing (IAT), which has been used for the past 20 years to measure unconscious bias. This method provided teens with a range of different visual driving scenarios such as texting, using various apps, and receiving phone calls along with a set of key words.
The speed with which teens associated these scenarios with words such as "distracting," "safe," and "fun" (among others), was then used to reveal their more automatic, gut-level reactions and feelings concerning distracted and dangerous driving behaviors. The unconscious biases identified in the IAT, coupled with the findings teens reported in the survey, revealed gaps in what teens believe versus what they say and how they act.
In many cases, teens' reported actions didn't match with what they implicitly felt. In the explicit, self-reporting survey, almost all teens acknowledge app usage as a danger behind the wheel (95 percent). However, when presented with a visual of an app notification appearing on a smartphone during implicit association testing, it was revealed that approximately 80 percent of teens fundamentally view app use while driving as "not distracting."
"This research identifies teens' underlying beliefs about key driving habits, providing insight into what teens really believe," says Dr. Gene Beresin, senior advisor on adolescent psychiatry with SADD and Executive Director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital. "Teens as a whole are saying all the right things, but implicitly believe that using their phone while driving is safe and not a stressor or distraction behind the wheel."
Teens may consider navigation and music apps as "utilities," diluting the perception of the dangers related to their use while driving. While 41 percent explicitly state that using navigation apps while driving is dangerous or distracting, 58 percent still report using them on the road. More teens (64 percent) say that using music apps while driving is dangerous or distracting, but nearly half (46 percent) still admit to using them in the car.
While navigation and music apps may seem harmless, how teens interact with them can be distracting. Turning on music apps, changing a destination, actively checking directions, and flipping through a playlist are all examples of potentially dangerous app usage behind the wheel. Implicit association testing also indicates that teens believe checking a notification or opening an app is less dangerous and distracting than texting while driving.
Conversations and Tips to Help Parents Worry Less
Since what teens say is not what they believe, parents should reappraise how they relate to their teens and demonstrate good behavior while driving, says Horrey. He suggests hiding the phone while driving and to start a dialogue with teens, suggesting a teen driving contract as a good place to start.
He says parents need to become role models before the children become teenagers because the children will mimic their parent's behavior.
"Pokemon GO, Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook, it doesn't matter which specific app teens are using. All of them keep their eyes and their focus off the roads and require direct manipulation that is dangerous because of the difficult interaction. The different variations of apps are still withdrawing attention from driving," explains Horrey.
Parents should also let teens know that they do not expect an immediate text message reply if the is teen driving.
Keeping conversations open and honest can encourage responsible driving among today's teens. Horrey and Beresin offer the following tips to help parents of teen drivers:
Hide the phone: 73 percent of teens admit to having their phones nearby while driving alone. Ask teens to keep their phones out of reach and on silent so they're less tempted to check incoming app notifications and more likely to keep their eyes on the road.
Map it out: 42 percent of teens say they text while driving to get directions or find out how to get somewhere. Teach teens to program their navigation apps before getting behind the wheel or pull over to double check directions.
Set Expectations: Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD encourage parents and teens to use the Teen Driving Contract as a conversation starter and discussion guide. This tool covers important safety issues and is an easy roadmap for parents and teens alike to uphold family driving rules. (Please click on the infographic above to open a larger, more legible, version.)
Lynn Walford has been writing and editing for over two decades. Her credits include Yahoo Autos, Investor’s Business Daily, TopSpeed, TechHive, Automotive IT News and Wireless Week. She currently is the editor of AUTO Connected Car News, covering new automotive technology. She is honored to be a Knight Digital Media News Entrepreneur Fellow. Walford learned to drive in her sister’s 1967 Mustang convertible. Her first car was an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint, followed by a 1965 Thunderbird convertible. Her next car was a 1964 Alfa Romeo Giulia Spyder which led to a series of Toyotas and other “more reliable cars." She currently drives an all-electric 2013 Nissan Leaf. Walford resides in the Los Angeles area.