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One-Third of Undergrads Admit Using Phone 'Apps' While Driving

THURSDAY, June 30 -- Many U.S. college students use mobile phone applications (apps) while driving, a new study suggests.

Researchers surveyed 93 University of Alabama at Birmingham students who own a smartphone and use web-based applications on it at least four or more times a week. About 35 percent of them said they sometimes use the apps while driving, and 10 percent said they "often," "almost always," or "always" use the apps while driving.

"The participants seemed to understand that using mobile apps while driving is dangerous, and some have even experienced motor vehicle crashes while using mobile apps, but they continue to do it," study author and psychology student Lauren McCartney said in a university news release.

McCartney is scheduled to present her findings in August at the American Psychological Association convention in Washington, D.C.

The findings concern David Schwebel, director of the UAB Youth Safety Lab.

"Driving a car is an incredibly complex task for humans to complete safely. There are enormous cognitive, perceptual and motor tasks an automobile driver must complete, frequently very quickly and with split-second precision," he said in the news release.

"A driver using his or her smartphone is clearly distracted, both visually and cognitively, and really should not be driving. The fact that 10 percent of college students with smartphones 'often' are using them while driving is astounding -- the fact that 35 percent 'sometimes' do is equally concerning," Schwebel said.

Because the study was small and presented in a medical meeting, the findings should be regarded as preliminary until confirmed in larger studies and published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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Posted: June 2011