Social Media and Distracted Driving

A Q&A with a UCIPT Postdoctoral Researcher

Are there any tools that would enable one to see if a driver is distracted by usage of social media on their smartphone?

A recent report estimated that up to a quarter of motor vehicle accidents involve the illegal use of a handheld mobile device by the driver. Drivers can be distracted form the road not only from using social media applications, but also from other mobile applications (e.g., text messages, email, phone calls). There are also different ways that the driver can interact (e.g., touch, voice, visual) with their smartphones these days. Thus, in order to establish whether mobile phone usage was a causal factor for an accident involves carrying out a forensic analysis of the phone. Based on a recent article, a potential way to do this is to analyze the phone’s CurrentPowerlog.powerlogsystem file and Android devices’ “buffer logs,” along with their associated residual data. Examining these data on the phone may determine whether the smartphone phone was used at the time of, or leading up to, the accident.

How many drivers are killed each year while distracted by Twitter?

I am not aware of data on drivers killed each year while distracted by Twitter. However, there is data on motor vehicle accidents in conjunction with cellphone use. According to the latest U.S. report, “at any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010.” According to the CDC, each day in the United States, more than eight people are killed and 1,161 injured in crashes that involve a distracted driver. Distracted driving is defined as driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from driving such as use of a cell phone, texting, or eating.

How do Uber drivers behave on Twitter while performing their duties?

I am not sure the percentage of Uber drivers that are using Twitter while they are driving customers. I frequently use Uber and from my experience so far, I have not encountered any Uber drivers using social media while driving me to a destination. Many drivers are good about avoiding phone calls or text message while they are driving me. However, I cannot speak about other people’s experience. It would be interesting to know if the Uber app keeps track of the driver’s smartphone usage while they are on duty.

Can you predict if someone will pass their driving exam based on their social media behavior?

I don’t think it is possible to predict that using social media data alone. There are many factors that will determine whether someone will pass their driving exam, such as hours of practice, cognitive and motor skills, and the quality of the driving school education. Much of this information cannot be extracted from social media data. Thus, it will be extremely difficult to use social media to predict if someone will pass their driving exam. However, we may be able to tell if someone is exhibiting risk-taking behaviors (e.g., drug use or sexual risk behaviors) using social media data. This may help with insurance policies. You can read about this in an article written by Dr. Sean Young here, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before we can accurately predict if someone is likely to be a risk taker.

Are there smartphone communication apps that you can recommend that are optimized for driver safety?

There are several mobile apps that will help prevent distracted driving accidents. Here are six mobile applications that will automatically disable certain functionality within wireless devices while a vehicle is in operation.

  • Sprint’s Drive First
  • FleetSafer Mobile
  • Textecution
  • Cellcontrol
  • Kyrus Mobile

You can read more about these apps here.

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