Study: Nearly 20 percent of drivers use Web behind the wheel

David Sarno, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Forget texting and driving or talking on the phone and driving: Those extremely dangerous habits are old hat. The new worry, says a survey released by State Farm this week, is what the insurance company cleverly calls “webbing while driving.”

That means looking up Web pages, following driving directions, reading and composing e-mails, checking Facebook and twiddling with smart-phone apps — activities that require sustained concentration and multiple key presses.

Among the 912 smart-phone users State Farm surveyed, more than 19 percent of them “webbed” while driving, the company said. That’s nearly one smart-phone-equipped driver out of every five.

“We are working to prevent crashes and save lives,” Cindy Garretson, State Farm’s director of auto technology research, said in a statement. “This research takes us one step closer to understanding the driver distractions that affect everyone on our roadways.”

The survey respondents said they tend to “web” while in heavy traffic, stopped at a red light, during daylight hours or on long drives on the open road.

The survey does not necessarily reflect trends in the greater population: Because it was conducted online, it is more likely to include tech-savvy individuals and younger people. And surveys without random samples are not generally scientific.

As the State Farm study points out, close to 40 percent of Americans have smart phones now, and that number is growing fast. And though we are frequently reminded not to text and drive, the safety message may not have caught up to the current technology.