Distracted driving has been a growing problem since cellphones came into wide use. Now, new research shows that among the young, the proliferation of mobile devices and the explosion of apps they have spawned have made the problem much worse. The University of Alabama Youth Safety Lab reports that mobile apps have become a particular danger to young drivers.
"The technology is evolving so rapidly that science hasn't caught up to looking at the effects that mobile app usage can have behind the wheel of a car," wrote researcher Lauren McCartney. "But something needs to be done because in psychological terms, Internet use involves substantial cognitive and visual distraction that exceeds talking or texting, making it much more dangerous."
The research also shows that among survey respondents, one in 10 "often," "almost always" or "always" use mobile apps. Another third use apps "sometimes" while driving.
The study results shouldn't come as any surprise. Smartphone use has exploded in the U.S., and is by far the fastest-growing portion of the handset market. Online research firm Comscore recently reported that "74.6 million people in the U.S. owned smartphones during the three months ending in April 2011, up 13 percent from the three-month period ending in January 2011." Smartphones using Google's (GOOG) Android OS and Apple (AAPL) iPhone dominated the market in April with 36.4% and 26% market share respectively.
A driving force of smartphone growth -- and perhaps the most important one -- is use of apps. Apple has more than 425,000. Google's competing app arsenal, while an order of magnitude smaller, continues to grow quickly.
The apps revolution was propelled by the rapid deployment of high speed 3G connected devices. Imagine what will happen as 4G is widely adopted: The risks for young drivers -- and the danger they pose to others -- are only likely to increase.
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