New survey data reveals seniors citizens are using handheld devices behind the wheel.

Majority of senior citizens drive distracted, survey suggests

Texting teens are a common sight in schools, at restaurants, and virtually any public place where people gather. And unfortunately, it's a habit that's led to far too many auto insurance claims, filed after their distractions led to accidents.

Based on a new survey, though, young people aren't the only ones whose phones are driving them to distraction. The same goes for senior citizens.

An estimated 60% of adults 65 years of age and older use their cell phones while driving, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California San Diego.

80% of seniors own a smartphone

The rather surprising findings were reached after a team of researchers at the university's Training, Research and Education for Driving Safety Institute surveyed roughly 400 senior citizens. More than 80% of the participants indicated that they owned a smartphone.

Not only did the majority of seniors own one, but they also confessed to using their handheld device behind the wheel. Specifically, 3 in 5 respondents admitted that this was something they did on at least a somewhat regular basis.

Linda Hill, M.D., professor at UCSD's Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, pointed out that while this rate is well below the proportion of teens who drive distracted, it's nonetheless concerning, and higher than what some might expect.

"Of those senior drivers who have a cell phone, 60% of them speak on the phone while behind the wheel, and seniors with a skewed sense of their multitasking abilities are most likely to engage in this behavior," Hill explained.

Safety experts argue that motorists should keep their hands on the wheel and their minds on the road. Safety experts argue that motorists should keep their hands on the wheel and their minds on the road.

'Hands-free isn't risk-free'

Indeed, three-quarters of seniors believed that they had the ability to drive safely while using hands-free mobile technology, the study found. Several states have laws on the books that require motorists to use hands-free devices if they choose to talk on the phone. However, organizations like the National Safety Council argue that hands-free is no safer. The NSC says it's where drivers' minds are that's the problem, not necessarily where their hands are located.

Hill warned that in addition to distracted senior citizens putting themselves in harm's way, they're setting a bad example for young people, particularly family members.

"When adults are driving distracted with children in the car, not only does it put children at risk, but they are also modeling risky behavior," Hill said. "No call is so urgent that it can't wait until the driver is able to pull over to a safe place."

"People are driving distracted even though they know they shouldn't."

Though the risks associated with multitasking while driving are not in dispute, people still engage in the activity. A poll done by Kelley Blue Book last year revealed 61% of respondents drove distracted, despite their awareness that it was dangerous.

Insurance company accident claims frequently involve cases in which the at-fault driver was distracted, but all too often, these incidents cause more than exterior damage. In 2015 – the most recent year in which statistics are available – approximately 391,000 drivers were hurt in accidents attributable to multitasking, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Worse, 3,477 motorists were killed.

In 2016, there were more deadly crashes than in the previous year, and experts attribute the rise to more people not paying attention to the road.

The texting and driving stories are devastating to hear about and even harder for the family members of those involved in distracted-related accidents, many of whom are calling for better awareness. Here at Elephant Insurance, please honor their cause by putting down the phone and keeping your 100% attention on the road.