Stunning 92% of drivers use phone, Fla. gets study’s 2nd worst score

Forget what people say. It’s what they really do behind the wheel that matters.

A study released today suggests 92 percent of U.S. drivers with cell phones have used them while moving in a car in the past 30 days and Florida gets the nation’s worst score for such use after Louisiana.

“It’s pretty insane,” said Ryan Ruffing, director of communications at EverQuote Inc., the company behind the research. “Most people consider themselves good drivers, but they are not aware of how often they are using their phones behind the wheel.”

An app called EverDrive collected data on more than 2.7 million vehicle trips and 230 million miles driven, according to the company. By sensing motion changes and other factors, the app assigns drivers a score on everything from phone use to use hard braking, speeding, risky acceleration and hard turns.

State Rep. Slosberg

“I’m not surprised by the results of the study,” said state Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton. “We’re one of four states that don’t make texting while driving a primary offense.”

That means police don’t cite drivers for texting on cell phones unless they pull them over for something else like speeding.

Slosberg and others have sponsored legislation to beef up penalties, but it is not clear those measures will get through committees in time to pass before the session ends in early May.

The EverDrive technology does not count hands-free devices or incidental phone motion in a pocket or car seat, but aims rather to detect active phone use such as unlocking it while the vehicle is moving, Ruffing said. Use can include texting and talking.

EverDrive, a privately-held firm based in Cambridge, Mass. and founded in 2011, calls itself an online insurance marketplace in the U.S. matching drivers with insurance providers based on price and coverage needs. The company insists it does not share individual driver data with insurance companies without permission, according to Ruffing, but its goal is to encourage safer habits by making drivers more self-aware.

Is it working? Company officials say there is evidence it may be. That 92 percent figure for phone use may sound high, but it was higher last year: 96 percent.

Southerners including Floridians have the highest phone usage rate while driving — on 41 percent of trips. Other regions used the phone on 34 percent to 37 percent of trips.

Last year EverQuote calculated Americans were on the phone about half a mile for every 11 miles driven.

Insurance companies such as Progressive have invited customers to use plug-in devices to measure many driving behaviors, if not necessarily phone use. Despite initial advertising claims, the gizmos can raise premiums as well lower them, The Palm Beach Post found. Drivers may not realize the tech cannot always distinguish between inattentive driving and, say, a hard stop to save a neighbor’s dog. Also often penalized: Driving after midnight, even if you work the night shift.

Still, just about everyone acknowledges phone use behind the wheel represents a big and growing safety issue.

“We hope this data sheds light on actual driving habits versus people’s perception of their driving skills,” said Seth Birnbaum, CEO of EverQuote. “Our goal is to empower drivers to use their scores to improve their driving skills and ultimately make the roads safer for themselves and the 214 million drivers on the roads across the U.S.”

Update: AT&T officials said they commissioned research showing 57 percent of people are more likely to stop driving distracted if a friend or passenger brings it up. As AT&T spokeswoman Kelly Starling in North Palm Beach said, “That means half of people are just waiting for someone to tell them to stop.”

During Distracted Driving Awareness Month, AT&T said it has launched the #TagYourHalf social media campaign to “encourage the public to join the conversation on Twitter.”

 

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