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Courtesy of StateFarm

Older drivers are texting and using smartphones while driving more than they used to, according to State Farm’s Annual Distracted Driving Study, which was released yesterday. In addition, the July 2013 survey of almost 1,000 drivers found that the percentage of drivers of all ages who are surfing the Internet while driving has nearly doubled since 2009, from 13% to 24%.

As Larry Copeland reports for USA Today, the study found that nearly one in four drivers is going online while driving, with the percentage of those ages 18-29 rising from 29% to 49% in the last five years. Also higher was the percentage of all drivers who read or respond to email or who read or update social media while driving, Copeland writes. According to a State Farm press release, the study finds a significant increase among all age groups of drivers who own smartphones, especially those age 30 and older.

Among drivers ages 40-49, the percentage who own smartphones rose from 47% to 82% from 2011 to 2013, writes Copeland, while for those 50-64, the percentage rose from 44% to 64%, and for those 65 and older, from 23% to 39%. However, the percentage of people who say they text while driving rose only slightly during the past five years, from 31% to 35% of all drivers, Copeland writes. And in the 18-29 age group, the percentage of people who say they text while driving has decreased slightly, from 71% to 69%.

Copeland goes on to say:

Most research on distracted driving — and most laws against it — have focused on texting while driving, which creates a crash risk 23 times greater than not doing so, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Research at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that reading or sending a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds — long enough to cover the length of a football field at 55 mph. A 2009 study by Road and Driver magazine found that the reaction times of two drivers were faster when they were legally drunk [than] when reading or sending texts.

Among those drivers surveyed by State Farm, 74% said they strongly agree with laws that prohibit texting or emailing while driving, but more than half of those surveyed believe that such laws are barely or not at all enforced. And 44% of those surveyed said they would be extremely likely to support technology that would prevent texting or emailing on a cell phone while driving. Colorado is among those states that ban text messaging for all drivers, the study says. Six states have partial text bans for novice drivers, and three states — Montana, Arizona and South Carolina — have no texting bans, according to the study.

The State Farm report quotes a company researcher:

‘As smart phone ownership increases for all age groups, the safety community must ensure we are keeping pace with our understanding of the types of distractions drivers face,’ said Chris Mullen, Director of Technology Research at State Farm. ‘Much attention is paid toward reducing texting while driving, but we must also be concerned about addressing the growing use of multiple mobile web services while driving.’

‘State Farm continues to support a multi-pronged approach to encouraging more engaged driving,’ Mullen said. ‘Legislation, enforcement, education and technology all have a role to play in making our roads safer for all who share them.’

Copeland writes that with the increase in ownership of smartphones — which allow people to go on the Internet, access social media and receive email — there are more opportunities than ever for drivers to be distracted. He spoke with one 66-year-old woman, Chris Sedrel of Iowa City, who said she texts on interstate highways as she drives to visit her children in other states.

Copeland writes:

Sedrel, who says her only crash was years ago in a snowstorm, says she doesn’t speed or drink alcohol. ‘I constantly reconsider (texting and driving),’ she says. ‘Because I want to be safe. I don’t know how much accidents are happening because people are texting on the interstate.’

She says she would stop texting while driving if she had a crash or even a close call.

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