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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - First it was chatting, then texts. Now apps are distracting young drivers, with more than a third of college students at a U.S. university saying they use them while behind the wheel.
New research from the University of Alabama (UAB) shows that even drivers who have reported previous accidents involving mobile phone applications can't resist using them while driving.
"It's astounding, scary. Very little of this is urgent business. It's socializing and entertainment," said David Schwebel, the director of the UAB Youth Safety Lab who supervised the study.
Ten of the nearly 100 UAB students questioned in the study had crashes directly related to distracted driving in the past five years and three students had two accidents. Everyone who took part in the research owned a smartphone and used apps on it at least four or more times a week.
"What really stood out was the number of participants who verbally reported understanding that using mobile Internet while driving was dangerous, but continued to do it," said Lauren McCartney, who worked on the study which will be presented at the American Psychological Association in Washington.
Socializing by phone seemed to be more important for some college students than safety behind the wheel.
"They seem pretty interested in keeping up with what everyone's doing on an hourly basis even," McCartney added.
Ten percent of students admitted they often or nearly always use mobile apps while driving. More than one-third use them sometimes.
Schwebel, whose findings are part of a larger study on the impact of apps on pedestrian safety, warned that distracted driving will only get worse as mobile gadgets get smarter and become even more popular.
"Driving is difficult. It takes substantial cognitive effort, visual perception. You need to be seeing the world around you," he said.
McCartney believes banning smartphone use while driving would help to solve the problem.
Thirty three U.S. states ban text messaging while driving but no state bans the specific use of apps, according to the researchers.