Surveys show more drivers surf the Web on the road; Beaufort County officials agree

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BEAUFORT COUNTY

Surveys show more drivers surf the Web on the road; Beaufort County officials agree

By ALLISON STICE
astice@islandpacket.com
Published Thursday, November 22, 2012   |  585 Words  |  

Texting while driving isn't the only modern form of distracted driving that makes roads less safe, a recent survey indicates.

"Webbing while driving" -- using a mobile device to access the Internet while behind the wheel -- is on the rise, according to data from insurance provider State Farm.

State Farm's fourth annual distracted-driving survey, which uses an outside vendor to poll about 1,000 people, tracks an increase in drivers checking email, updating social media and surfing the Web. Using maps or GPS through a smartphone also counts as webbing while driving because it, too, distracts drivers, according to State Farm public affairs specialist Justin Tomczak.

For motorists ages 18 to 29, accessing the Internet through increasingly prevalent smartphones while driving has become common. This year, 48 percent of the respondents in that age group reported using mobile Web services on the road -- a 29 percent increase from 2009.

But webbing while driving is on the rise among drivers of all ages. According to the survey, 21 percent of drivers of all age groups said they had logged on to the Web while driving, up from 13 percent in 2009.

"The mobile Internet is generating another set of distractions for drivers to avoid," Tomczak said in a news release. "While the safety community is appropriately working to reduce texting while driving, we must also be concerned about the growing use of multiple mobile Web services while driving."

In South Carolina, the state's Office of Highway Safety also tracks distracted driving based on crash records it maintains, but it is difficult to draw conclusions from the data, said statistician Jordan Hix.

On crash reports, "distracted driving," "cellphone usage" and "texting" are listed as separate contributing factors, and one or all of them can be checked after a wreck. The crash reports do not differentiate between cellphone and smartphones, so the trend of "webbing while driving" is not tracked. It can also be difficult for law enforcement officers to determine whether cellphone use is a factor in a crash unless they witness it or a driver admits to it, Hix said.

Although driving while using a cellphone is legal in South Carolina -- for talking, texting or going online -- the S.C. Highway Patrol has launched campaigns to warn against the practice.

Bluffton police Lt. Joe Babkiewicz said drivers with cellphones are "a problem everywhere."

Sgt. Robin McIntosh of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office said distractions from portable devices that lead to preventable accidents are increasing.

The city of Beaufort recently banned texting while driving. The new ordinance also prohibits drivers under 18 from using cellphones. So far, one warning ticket for texting has been issued, Police Chief Matt Clancy said.

According to the State Farm survey, 72 percent of drivers strongly agreed with laws or regulations that ban texting or emailing behind the wheel.

However, two-thirds also believe those laws are rarely if ever enforced.

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