In fact, the report from Zendrive finds that drivers are using hand-held devices a hundred times more than previously thought. Previous reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that 600,000 drivers use their phones while they are driving, but Zendrive’s data shows the number to be closer to 69 million.
According to the new report, sixty percent of drivers nationally use their phones at least once during the day, and at any given hour, on average, forty percent of drivers may be using their phones. In California, drivers spent 6.5 percent of their time behind the wheel on their phones in 2018, which is a 54 percent increase over 2017.
“Whether or not a state has a law prohibiting drivers from using hand-held phones appears to have little effect on the amount of driver phone use or the change in driver phone use from 2017 to 2018,” says the report.
These findings contrast sharply with results that were released last October from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS). That report found what it called a “considerable decrease” in cell-phone use over the previous year. The report even stated baldly that “distracted driving due to hand-held and estimated hands-free electronic devices fell in 2017.”
The difference may be in how the data was collected. The OTS report was based on field observations by researchers at Cal State Fresno—that is, people stood on the side of the road counting the number of drivers who are holding or looking at phones. Zendrive, on the other hand, has access through its software to direct data on cellphone use. The company’s focus is on driver safety, and as such it has developed automatic collisions detector systems that can identify crashes and notify emergency services. It specializes in measuring and analyzing driver behavior, and its data is used by insurance companies and fleet managers, among others.