Social media hashtag study highlights uphill struggle against distracted driving

By CARSIFU | 28 March 2016

DETROIT: Americans aren't just multi-tasking at work and home; a new analysis shows they're also doing double duty while driving.

The top five social media hashtags used in tandem with #whiledriving included clouds, sunset, sky, nature and sun, strongly suggesting that people are snapping pictures of beautiful scenery and posting them to social media, while at the same time operating their vehicles.

The hashtag analysis also found that men were more likely to be distracted than women, with 55 percent of #whiledriving posts coming from men, and 45 percent from women.

US insurer Erie Insurance analysed social media data to coincide with Distracted Driving Awareness Month and gain insight into what drivers are doing behind the wheel.

The company analysed Twitter and Instagram posts that came from mobile devices and used the popular hashtag #whiledriving.  It reviewed 90 days of social media tracking data bought from the analytics firm Keyhole. The data collected were from iPhones, iPads and Androids that had their location services turned on.

"Drivers should be keeping their hands on the wheel, their eyes on the road, and their attention on driving but, based on our analysis of the 'while driving' hashtag, many appear instead to be gazing off into the sunset, often times snapping and sharing photos—clearly an unsafe situation," said Doug Smith, Erie Insurance senior vice president of Personal Lines.

Smith said that the behaviour suggested by the hashtag analysis show some parallels with the insurer's prior  study of police data that found daydreaming to be the driving distraction most associated with fatal car crashes.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 3,179 people were killed and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2014 alone.

"The statistics about the dangers of distracted driving are alarming," said Smith. "So while it's understandable to want to share a picturesque sky with your social media followers—imagine if it were the last one. It's just not worth it. We hope our analysis helps drive that point home."

Perhaps not surprisingly, California led the top US states with the most posts using #whiledriving followed by Florida and Texas.