These Are the Mobile Apps Drivers Admit Using Behind the Wheel

Drivers want to remain connected while driving 14 photos
Photo: Florin Profir/autoevolution
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Distracted driving has long been a problem that authorities have tried to tackle. Still, despite the big investments in technology that are supposed to prevent it and new laws with bigger fines for drivers, we keep paying attention to other things when we get behind the wheel.
The technology boom that turned mobile devices into permanent companions wherever we go also impacted how we drive our cars, and a recent study proves that mobile addiction also fuels distracted driving.

A report published by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT) highlights a worrying picture. Many drivers can't leave their phones behind when getting behind the wheel, so they continue to use their apps, often taking their eyes off the road.

Phone mirroring systems like Android Auto and CarPlay help deal with this problem, as they only allow driving-optimized apps like Google Maps and Spotify to run on the vehicle's infotainment system.

With these solutions, drivers get the essential information on the screen, and digital assistants like Google Assistant and Siri allow them to interact with their apps hands-free using voice commands.

Do Not Disturb While Driving on iPhone
Photo: IIHS
However, Android Auto and CarPlay don't block mobile phone use. Users can still pick up their smartphones, unlock them, and launch other apps.

According to CMT survey data, which included 1,600 drivers, 24% of drivers use Instagram when the vehicle is in motion. They scroll down to see the latest photos and reels, taking their eyes off the road and creating an increased risk of accidents. One in five drivers admitted using WhatsApp and the camera app bundled with the smartphone while driving.

WhatsApp is currently the world's number one mobile messaging service, allowing users to exchange messages and make audio and video calls. Drivers likely send messages and continue their conversations despite driving a car. The camera suggests an even more concerning problem. While some drivers could use it to take photos of their surroundings or other vehicles in traffic, others might launch the app to take selfies. Some do this when the vehicles are in motion.

The next survey result is even more concerning. 19% of drivers said they use YouTube while driving.

Prime Video on Android Automotive
Photo: Google
Watching YouTube is a big no-no behind the wheel, as the application could make a driver take their eyes off the road for extended periods of time. While a mobile app like WhatsApp could only cause limited distraction, YouTube might make a driver look at the screen for more than a few seconds, significantly increasing the risk of accidents.

YouTube is not allowed on Android Auto and CarPlay specifically for this purpose. While the experience should be allowed when the vehicle is parked, Google and Apple preferred to block the app completely, likely as allowing it officially (as the app already landed in the car using unofficial methods) would create other problems. For example, watching YouTube when the vehicle is sitting – such as when waiting for the green light – could contribute to traffic jams if the driver no longer pays attention to the traffic light.

The survey discovered that 15% of drivers use the phone app, which isn't necessarily a problem unless they use the mobile phone directly. Talking on the phone while driving is common among drivers, but systems like Bluetooth, Android Auto, and CarPlay have made it significantly safer. Digital assistants also allow drivers to answer and make phone calls hands-free without even looking at the screen.

Drivers aged 30-44 are more prone to distracted driving, with 28% admitting to using Instagram. WhatsApp, the Camera app, Facebook, and Facebook Messenger are also popular in this age group. Interestingly, these drivers also want to remain productive behind the wheel, even if this involves taking their eyes off the road, as they can't refrain from using apps like Acrobat Reader and Gmail. Web browsing is also popular behind the wheel; one in five drivers said they launched Google Chrome on their mobile devices.

Vivaldi on Android Automotive
Photo: Vivaldi
Google Chrome has recently landed in cars powered by Android Automotive, but browsing the web is only allowed when the vehicle is parked. The mobile device unlocks the full experience regardless of the vehicle's status, so the driver can run Google Chrome to browse the web when the car is in motion.

The study calls for more aggressive measures to tackle distracted driving and encourages drivers to place their phones out of reach. Mobile devices also come with do not disturb while driving systems, which block access to mobile apps and send notifications to contacts trying to reach you that you're driving. The study recommends drivers to pull over when they need to send a message or make a phone call, though we all know that will not happen.

You can find the entire study in the document attached below, and scroll down to the comment section to let me know what apps you use while driving.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
Bogdan Popa profile photo

Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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