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It's not just texting: drivers are Instagramming and video chatting too

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Forty-six states now have laws that explicitly ban texting while driving. But smartphones can distract drivers in many other ways, too, a new survey commissioned by AT&T shows.

While it found that texting was the most common distraction, lots of drivers said they emailed, browsed the internet, checked Facebook, took selfies or other photos, or even video chatted while driving:

driving chart

The firm Braun Research carried out the phone survey, speaking to 2,067 smartphone-owning drivers between the ages of 16 and 65. The survey also found that 30 percent of drivers who said they used Twitter admitted to doing so "all the time."

Of course, AT&T is a phone company, so you might imagine it would try to downplay the distractions its phones pose. On the other hand, as the New York Times points out, for several years AT&T has also invested in an anti–distracted driving public service campaign. If anything, it seems likely that this data might underrepresent the proportion of distracted drivers, since lots of people might not want to admit Instagramming behind the wheel.

Why do people use phones while driving?

The strange thing is that most people seem to know that using their phones while driving is not a good idea. In this survey, just 27 percent of people who took video while driving thought they could do so safely. In a recent survey by AAA, meanwhile, 78.6 percent of drivers said texting or emailing while driving was a "very serious threat to safety."

But put people behind the wheel with a cellphone, and many of these same drivers will use it. The AAA survey, for instance, found that 36.1 percent of drivers had texted or emailed in the previous month. In this AT&T survey, 22 percent of those who had used social media while driving mentioned "addiction" as a reason.

The immediate impulse to use the phone, it seems, often overwhelms the rational knowledge that it's risky.

Just how dangerous is using your phone while driving?

We still don't have great data on exactly how dangerous smartphone-distracted driving is, because crashes caused by phones are notoriously underreported — very few drivers will admit that their phone use caused a collision. About 10 percent of fatal crashes and 17 percent of all crashes that cause injuries, though, involve driver distraction in general.

These distractions can come from different sources, including passengers in the car, music, eating, and simply daydreaming. But a recent AAA study conducted with footage captured by in-vehicle video cameras — shows that, at least among teenagers, phones rank very high on the list.

It found that 12 percent of teenage drivers involved in crashes were using phones at the moment of impact, making them the second most common cause of distraction (15 percent were caused by distractions from passengers).

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