Are millennial parents the most distracted drivers? A new study says so

Queensland is to introduce the nation's stiffest penalties for drivers who use their phones.

Queensland is to introduce the nation's stiffest penalties for drivers who use their phones. Photo: Getty

More than half of parents admit to texting and driving, and millennials are the worst offenders, a new study has found.

The Harvard University researchers said the drivers, aged 22 to 37 years old, were also more likely to email, use maps and scroll through their social media feeds compared to older parents.

“Distracted driving is one of the biggest issues on our roads, and we don’t have a solution yet,” Dr Oscar Oviedo Trespalacios, who was not involved in this study, told The New Daily. 

“Every time you take your eyes off the road for two seconds or more you increase your crash rate by nearly four times,” the research fellow from Queensland’s Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety (CARRS-Q), said.

An ‘epidemic’ across all age groups

The study, released in JAMA on Tuesday, involved US drivers only.

But local statistics suggest the problem is widespread among our younger drivers – and rates are predicted to rise in older Australians.

According to the NSW Centre for Road Safety, drivers aged 17 to 39 years report using mobile phones more often than older drivers, and were more likely to be involved in a crash where hand-held mobile phone use was a factor.

At the same time, a 2018 study by Monash University concluded that distracted driving is likely to increase in older Australians in the coming years “as future generations of older drivers drive more often, and for longer, and embrace technology in increasing numbers,” the authors wrote.

Dr Oviedo Trespalacios said that while millennials might be using their phones more, Australians from all age groups are guilty of breaking the rules.

“It is an epidemic among all drivers,” he said.

“Most of our studies show that all groups of drivers use mobile phones, to some extent, and that’s what we should be talking about. It doesn’t make you any better if you use it less.

Dr Oviedo Trespalacios said the most risky behaviour is “when the phone is ringing and you’re searching for your phone on the seat or in your bag”.

The second most common scenario, he added, is people checking emails, searching for a contact or texting, all of which are illegal in Australia even while stopped at traffic lights.

A driver is distracted every 96 seconds

Another 2018 study conducted by Monash University’s Accident Research Centre revealed that the average Australian is distracted every 96 seconds while behind the wheel.

People were only spending half of their time driving, and the other half of the time doing other “non-driving” activities such as texting, the researchers found.

A scary statistic given that one in four car crashes in Australia are caused by driver distraction, with mobile phone use being a major contributor.

Between 2010 and 2014, 236 crashes in NSW were linked to mobile phone use, according to NSW government’s Centre for Road Safety.

But under-reporting and the difficulty of finding illegal phone use at crash scenes mean this figure is probably much greater.

Tougher penalties for offenders and world-first camera technology that could catch drivers in the act are some of the strategies being used by road and transport authorities to curb the alarming trend.

From September 2018, demerit points for illegal phone use while driving increased from four to five in NSW – making it the toughest penalty for this type of activity in Australia.

Dr Oviedo Trespalacios said drivers can avoid the temptation to check their phone by activating the ‘do not disturb’ or ‘driver mode’ setting before stepping into the car.

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