Driving with Phone in Hand

In this spring of this year I decided to use parts of my lunch-hour to observe drivers in downtown Calgary to see, generally, how many drivers are using a smartphone while driving. The quick answer is that it’s about 7%.

Texting while driving is something that worries me a lot. I’ve done work in the past about digital environments and presence, and I know that while someone is texting, they are simply not fully present behind that wheel – no matter how good of a driver they think they are.

I see people texting and driving all the time, so I decided to do a bit of observing and find out what the numbers are like. Calgary is especially suited for this because there’s a “plus 15” system throughout downtown, a second story walkway that offers several enclosed bridges overtop of roads, where an observer can see clearly into moving vehicles.

My goal was to observe 5000 cars over the spring and summer, however, because of life and then a change in my working conditions, I stalled at 900. It doesn’t look like I’ll get back to counting cars anytime soon, so I may as well post some results before this project becomes a distant memory.

I observed for 10 sessions, usually 100 cars at a time, for a total of 62 cars out of 900 that were holding a phone in their hand. This is 6.8%.

Two things were surprising to me, that this was a lower % than I expected (my initial guess was 10%), and that the results for each session were very consistent (6-8 per each 100 car session).

There were some limitations and worthwhile notes to make:

  • obviously, this is a small sample size. Although the consistency is enough for me to feel satisfied.
  • This is downtown driving, which might be different than suburb driving.
  • I didn’t count cars where I couldn’t see one of the hands – potentially missing many phones.
  • I also didn’t count professional drivers (taxis, work vans, buses, etc.) because of course they would never text and drive.
  • All observations were early afternoon on a weekday. Results might be different at different times or on weekends.
  • I tried to be objective, but there’s no denying that I am very anti-texting and driving, and that could have skewed numbers somehow

7% of texters is high, especially because I drive past several hundred other drivers even when I simply go up to the grocery store, and it only takes one to cause an accident.

For me, the fact that people simply can’t pull themselves away from the screen, even while operating a moving vehicle, is the best argument for mass deploy of self-driving cars. The sooner the better.

Link to my spreadsheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1RjkWEEYb32ku4yVfLJMlcBRpkWhPna7W9ur_051hRD4/edit?usp=sharing



2 thoughts on “Driving with Phone in Hand

  1. Hi Aaron, for me it fixes the problem fine, it would be comparable to having a conversation with someone in the passenger seat. I don’t use this myself, but I assume the interface is simple enough and voice activated…?

    The difference is that spoken word surrounds us and mingles with our presence, where as printed word and text focuses us and directs our presence in a single direction.


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