More older drivers distracted by smartphones

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While younger people remain the undisputed champions of distracted driving, older drivers may be catching up, according to a report issued Tuesday.

State Farm Insurance's annual distracted driving survey cites a "growing safety concern" -- a sharp increase in smartphone ownership by drivers 30 and older.

And while states have focused on banning texting while driving, and in some cases have also banned hand-held cell phone use, another distractive behavior is filling the void.

The percentage of drivers who said they use their phone to access the Internet while driving has nearly doubled, from 13 percent in 2009 to 24 percent in this year's survey.

The smartphone "is a distraction that sees no age barrier," State Farm spokesman Dave Phillips said.

The number of drivers between ages 30 and 39 who own smartphones has gone from 60 percent to 86 percent in the past two years, matching the percentage of 18- to 29-year-olds who own them, according to the survey.

Big increases also are found in older age ranges: smartphone ownership among 40- to 49-year-olds grew from 47 percent in 2011 to 82 percent this year; among those 50 to 64 the percentage rose from 44 percent to 64 percent.

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The percentage of drivers in the 18- to 29-year-old group who reported using smartphones to access the Internet grew from 29 percent in 2009 to 49 percent this year, according to the report.

And those younger drivers remained far and away more likely to engage in a variety of other distracted behaviors than drivers as a whole: 69 percent in the 18 to 29 category reported texting while driving vs. 35 percent of drivers as a whole; 31 percent of younger drivers said they answered email vs. 16 percent of the overall group.

Mr. Phillips said the results raise a concern that "the multitasking that is part of our lives is something we can't even get away from while behind the wheel."

"It's not good news. Distracted driving is pervasive among both younger and more mature drivers," said Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association.

"It's particularly alarming because teen drivers tend to emulate their parents' behaviors."

A possible bright spot was an increase in the use of hands-free phones, while hand-held phone use and texting while driving has leveled off.

Forty-one states, including Pennsylvania, have banned texting while driving, according to the GHSA.

Only 12 states prohibit hand-held cell phone use, which is still legal in Pennsylvania.

More than half of the State Farm survey respondents said they believed there was little or no enforcement of current anti-texting and phone use laws.

The survey of nearly 1,000 drivers was conducted by an outside company in July.

State Farm has done the survey in each of the past five years.

Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at Twitter: @pgtraffic.

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