University of Jyväskylä

Finnish drivers use WhatsApp, PokémonGo and Tinder while driving

Photo: Naomi Woods
Photo: Naomi Woods
Researchers at the University of Jyväskylä tracked how Finnish drivers use their smartphones while driving. Drivers seem to use the same applications in traffic as elsewhere, without much moderation. Unexpectedly, heavy smartphone users even increased their phone use in dense traffic. It seems that some of the heavy users accept the risks resulting from the high levels of visual-manual distraction. The greatest smartphone-based risks in traffic seem to be caused by messaging applications.

It is a known fact that drivers, regardless of regulations, use their smartphones while driving. A naturalistic study by the University of Jyväskylä was the first to track how and for what purposes Finnish drivers use their smartphones while on the move. The researchers monitored 30 heavy users of smartphones for 12 weeks in June–September 2016. They recorded the times the drivers touched their phones, the applications used (calls excluded), the location and the driving speed. The number of touches on the smartphone screen per time unit was used as a proxy for estimating visual-manual distraction due to smartphone tasks.

The study examined whether drivers use their phones differently on varying road types (highway, main road, local road, urban road) and what applications they use while driving.  It was expected that the drivers would use their smartphones less on urban roads due to increased attentional demands caused by other traffic, intersections and vulnerable road users.

WhatsApp the most heavily used application on the road

The median number of touches on the smartphone while on the move was 41 per hour (range 8–481). Two of the drivers averaged over 400 touches per hour.

The road type had an effect on phone use but the effect was contrary to what was expected: the drivers produced more touches per hour on urban roads, even if the phone use instances tended to be shorter in cities than on the highway or main roads.

By far the highest overall rankings in the number of drivers using phones, the number of uses, and the duration of use were associated with the WhatsApp messaging service. One instance of WhatsApp use had a median of 8 touches and a median duration of 35 seconds. In contrast, an instance of navigation application use included a median of 3 touches and lasted for 11 seconds.

Possibly the most surprising finding was that four drivers used PokémonGo so heavily that the application rose to sixth on the list of the most frequently used applications by the total number of touches. Interactions with the application were particularly long (median 26 touches and 141 seconds). The launch of the application occurred during the study, which may explain its popularity among some of the drivers. Also many other non-driving related applications, such as Facebook and Tinder, were used by the drivers during the study.

Additional information:
Postdoctoral Researcher Tuomo Kujala
University of Jyväskylä, Faculty of Information Technology, Cognitive Science
tel. +358 400 247392

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