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Holiday travel: Heads up, more drivers on their phones

Sunday - 11/18/2012, 9:32am  ET

older man driving with cellphone (Courtesy of State Farm)

Andrew Mollenbeck, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The days surrounding Thanksgiving are some of the year's busiest on the roads, and a survey suggests more drivers will have their eyes on their phones instead of the lanes around them.

"We are definitely seeing an increase in the number of drivers who report using their phones to access the Internet while driving," says Chris Mullen, director of technology research for State Farm.

The annual report on distracted driving finds "troubling results," while noting more drivers own smart phones, presenting additional opportunities for diversion.

The July survey of nearly 1,000 drivers shows distracted driving has grown well beyond text messages and often includes using the Internet, reading social media posts and checking email.

"It's not just young drivers who are guilty of distracted driving. This report shows us that using a cellphone while driving is increasing for all ages," Mullen says.

Tracy Cooper, a local business owner, feels the need to stay connected while on the road.

"I do check email, and I text while I'm driving," she says. "I am guilty."

While filling up his car in Montgomery County, Jeremy Kugel said he sees the use of cellphones most at traffic lights.

"Person to my left, person to my right both doing something on the phone," he says. "I'm not sure what it is."

Among the survey's findings:

For drivers 18 to 29:

  • 48 percent accessed the Internet while on a cellphone in 2012, compared to 29 percent in 2009.
  • 36 percent read social media networks while driving in 2012, up from 21 percent in 2009.
  • 30 percent updated their social networks while driving in 2011, compared with 20 percent in 2009.
  • 43 percent checked email while driving in 2012. In 2009, 32 percent did.

For all drivers, the data showed:

  • More people own smartphones, but older drivers are less likely to be on the web while driving.
  • 21 percent accessed the Internet while on a cellphone in 2012, up from 13 percent in 2009.
  • 15 percent read social media networks while driving in 2012, compared with 9 percent in 2009.
  • 13 percent updated their social networks while driving, up from 9 percent in 2009.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)