July 4th is next week. It’s a unique holiday from a driving perspective – millions of people will hit the road just before dark to watch colorful explosions take over the night sky. How distracted can you expect them to be?
Our latest research shows distracted driving is similar for summer holidays and weekdays – about 16.8% of driving time, or 1 minute per every 6 minutes behind the wheel. As you can see from the chart above, both Memorial Day and Labor Day are slightly below the average summer weekday. Our research also reveals that drivers make fewer phone calls during summer holidays. For example, hands-free phone calls on Memorial Day 2018 were close to 90% lower than a typical summer day.
The research covers 35 million trips from April 2017 through June 2018.
Distraction was higher in 2018
While distraction during summer holidays may not increase, there’s a larger problem at play. Distracted driving surged in summer 2018. For every 5.4 minutes on the road, drivers are texting and using apps for 1 minute, an increase of 10% over 2017. Hands-free phone calls are also up, skyrocketing 17%. Handheld phone calls, on the other hand, are down 5%.
While hands-free phone calls are generally assumed to be safer than handheld calls, research shows that you’re impaired with both. You have a delayed reaction time when talking on the phone, regardless of the interaction. What’s more is that after you hang up, it takes up 27 seconds to fully focus on the road again – what’s being called “technology hangover.”
If 2017 is any indication, distraction won’t slow down in the second half of the summer. In the first half of summer 2017, Memorial Day through late June, drivers were distracted 10 minutes of every hour. Distraction was essentially the same from late June through Labor Day.
A more distracted Memorial Day
We wanted to identify emerging distraction trends for 2018 summer holidays. To do this, we compared distracted driving for Memorial Day 2017 and 2018. In 2017, drivers were distracted for 10 minutes of every hour. In 2018, it increased to 10 minutes and 18 seconds, a 3% bump. Hands-free calls soared 46% in 2018 while handheld calls fell 7%. It’s hard to pinpoint why hands-free calls increased so dramatically. It’s likely a combination of more vehicles with Bluetooth and an increase in laws banning handheld phone use.
How significant is an 18-second increase? Consider that it takes 5 seconds to read a text. When traveling at 55 MPH, you drive the length of a football field in those 5 seconds. So, an 18-second increase in distraction is like driving 3 MORE football fields blindfolded.
More time on the roads
Along with distraction, driving time is up this summer. Remember, we measure distraction as a percentage of overall driving time. This means there’s even more distraction on the roads than the numbers above would lead you to believe. People drove more miles (up 5%), spent more time on the road (up 6%), and made more trips (up 8%) in summer 2018.
The good news is that people drive less during summer holidays. In 2017, people took 3.2 trips per day in the summer on average. Trips fell during Memorial Day (2.6 per day), 4th of July (2.7 per day), and Labor Day (2.5 per day).
Summer is the most distracted season of the year
As you read through this research, keep in mind that the summer is the most distracted season of the year. It’s 8% higher than the other seasons. July is the most distracted month of the year, followed by August, September, and June.