Although we’re aware of the dangers associated with using a mobile behind the wheel, many drivers are still risking a quick call to the office, text to their friends… or even a glance at their twitter page. Our recent survey1 revealed the extent of the problem – with one in three UK motorists admitting to using their phone while driving. As a result, The UK Department for Transport reported nearly 500 incidents last year involving the driver using a mobile.2
The survey highlighted that of those drivers who admit to using their phones, 18-34 year olds are more likely to use a social media app whilst on the road. 34% of this age group will use Facebook, compared to only 3% of people over 55 years old. We wanted to investigate whether drivers feel drawn to regularly check their smartphones because of a ‘Fear of Missing Out’, also known as ‘FOMO’ – even if it means being distracted on the road.
We spoke to Dr. Lee Hadlington, Senior Lecturer at De Montfort University3 and Sgt Neil Dewson-Smyth from Cheshire Police, who’s currently running a safe driving social campaign4. We discussed with these experts how smartphones are effecting the way people drive on our roads.
Are we a nation of phone addicts?
Last year, the UK communication regulators Ofcom released a report which revealed that two thirds of people in the UK own a smartphone5. Mobiles play a vital role in people’s lives, being described as ‘an extension of ourselves’. They hold onto important information, store memories, and keep us in touch with one another and the rest of the world. Constantly being connected is now part of our day-to-day life, and Hadlington describes this as receiving ‘mini rewards’ for regularly checking our devices for social updates.
The fear of disconnecting
This compulsive behaviour, with drivers frequently checking their phones, suggests a fear of being disconnected from their online life and from missing out on any social experiences. It could explain why some drivers are struggling to put down their devices. Richard Coteau, Corporate Fundraising Manager from road safety charity Brake highlighted this point; “From our research and surveys, we know that driver distraction affects people, even more with many admitting that the temptation to update social media is too much to resist.”
Our survey revealed that of those who admit to using their phones while they drive, half of them will answer a call illegally. It also highlighted that just under 40% of drivers will text or use a messenger app, and 28% will send an email.
According to the Deloitte Mobile Consumer Study, one in six smartphone owners will look at their devices more than 50 times a day6. This further reflects people wanting to constantly check their phone, in case there’s a social media update or a message to respond to. Hadlington highlights that:
App notifications drive individuals into the ‘push economy’, where we’re constantly being sent new updates. Most individuals will keep these on for important things like communications and social networking, so when they get a message they want to respond quickly.
This means mobile phone owners are being encouraged to regularly check their phones, so that they don’t miss out on any news or updates.
He also tells us how FOMO is linked to people thinking they’re missing out on an experience others are having when they’re detached from their smartphones. “Constantly checking a smartphone can lead to rewards, and this links into interval level reinforcement,” he explains. This ‘reward’ system, such as receiving messages from friends and family, or somebody sharing new content, makes that person feel good.
Looks that could kill
Mobile phone distraction is dangerous, and FOMO is aiding the increase in mobile usage while driving. Hadlington says “anyone who does more than one thing at any time runs the risk of losing focus on one or both tasks.” Dewson-Smyth tells us just how dangerous it is to look at your phone when driving on the road:
He also mentions that “some are looking at their phone so often that, based on this five second rule, they may never regain full awareness before they are looking back at their phone.” This makes those drivers a high risk, which could lead to a potential collision.
It’s not just checking phone notifications that’s causing distracted driving, as one in eight even admit to uploading live photos and videos onto social media apps. Dewson-Smyth continues to highlight that “the livestream behaviour adds an additional load on the driver. Holding the phone, reading comments and performing all mean the driver is focused far too much on what they are doing and who they can entertain or impress, and not on their driving.”
Coteau follows on from this point by adding; “While it’s illegal to use a hand-held phone to text or call at the wheel, around a third of drivers flout this law, and many others use a hands-free kit, despite both activities causing a dangerous distraction.”
Don’t let FOMO jeopardise your safety
Drivers know it’s illegal to use their mobiles, yet many still risk it. Dewson-Smyth tells us that “the whole concept of the danger is that the drivers’ attention should be on the road and those around them. When it's half focused on their phone then tragedy is a heartbeat away.” Although FOMO is a growing issue in our modern-day culture, motorists need to remember to keep their eyes on the road and only check their phones once they’ve safely reached their destination.
Immobilising Safe Driving
Read the next article in our Safe Driving series, which looks at how mobile phones distract your driving, and what the law is under these circumstances.
Read the next article in our Driven to Distraction series to find out what happened when Tynchy Stryder attempted to update his social media while driving.
Additional SourcesOnline survey conducted by Aviva, finding out about how drivers engage with their phones. Results based on 2,021 respondents, nationally represented across GB between 11-12th June 2016
Contributory factors to reported road accidents 2014, Department for Transport. Method is based on reported factors from accidents attended by Police Officers
Professor Lee Hadlington works at the De Montfort University of Leicester, and is author of “Cognitive failures in daily life: Exploring the link with Internet addiction and problematic mobile phone use”
Sgt. Neil Dewson-Smyth works with Cheshire Police, and also runs his own independent campaign called #dontstreamanddrive. This campaign aims to highlight the dangers of drivers filming and photographing themselves while driving, potentially leading to a fatal road accident.