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Another distraction: Drivers using smartphone apps

John Egan

A University of Alabama at Birminghamsurvey of college students reveals that 35 percent use smartphone apps — while driving.

“The participants seemed to understand that using mobile apps while driving is dangerous, and some have even experienced motor vehicle crashes while using mobile apps, but they continue to do it,” says Lauren McCartney, a University of Alabama at Birmingham student who conducted the survey.

University of Alabama at Birmingham researcher Lauren McCartney.

McCartney, a student in the university’s Department of Psychology, will present her findings in August at the American Psychological Association convention in Washington, D.C.

“The technology is evolving so rapidly that science hasn’t caught up to looking at the effects that mobile app usage can have behind the wheel of a car,” McCartney says. “But something needs to be done because, in psychological terms, Internet use involves substantial cognitive and visual distraction that exceeds talking or texting, making it much more dangerous.”

The survey featured 93 UAB students who own a smartphone and use web-based apps on it at least four times a week.

David Schwebel, director of the UAB Youth Safety Lab, says: “A driver using his or her smartphone is clearly distracted, both visually and cognitively, and really should not be driving. The fact that 10 percent of college students with smartphones ‘often’ are using them while driving is astounding — the fact that 35 percent ‘sometimes’ do is equally concerning.”

Thirty-four states ban texting while driving, but none of them outlaws using web-based smartphone apps while driving.

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