Study: Drivers in Finland distracted by WhatsApp, Tinder while behind the wheel

Even in demanding traffic conditions, drivers can't seem to put down their smartphones, research from Jyväskylä University suggests.

Tinder and Netflix are among apps favoured by drivers whilst behind the wheel. Image: Naomi Woods

Some motorists in Finland seem unable to look away from their smartphones, even while driving in demanding traffic conditions, according to research at the University of Jyväskylä.

Drivers were found to have used smartphones most on city streets where the presence of pedestrians and intersections required more alertness, according to researchers Tuomo Kujala and Jakke Mäkelä.

The study followed 30 subjects who were heavy smartphone users and frequent drivers for 12 weeks. According to Kujala, the results that were gathered in 2016 are indicative and cannot be use to generalise about driving habits.

Drivers were monitored using software designed by Jyväskylä-based Ficonic Solutions Ltd which recorded the number of touches on a phone screen, what programmes were used and the speed and location of the car at the time of phone activity.

In Finland, drivers are permitted to use mobile devices while driving, but only with hands-free devices.

481 screen touches per hour

The research found that, on average, drivers touched the screen of their smartphones 41 times every hour. However, the frequency varied among subjects - as one driver fiddled with the phone a total of 481 times in an hour.

The findings showed that the application most often used while driving was the contacts library, with messaging service WhatsApp second. Music platforms ranked third most likely to be used while behind the wheel.

”Using a phone while driving is always a risk, however it also makes a difference which application is used and how. For example navigator apps are usually designed to require minimal contact, whereas operating messaging platforms such as WhatsApp often requires numerous touches,” said Kujala, lead researcher of the project.

Tinder tracked at all speeds

Other apps and features popular among drivers include Facebook, Instagram, email, Netflix, Tinder, online banking apps and the camera.

A few drivers also explored the joys of Pokémon Go, an augmented-reality game platform that uses the phone’s camera. Those who played the game as they drove spent exceptionally intense periods on the game, as a single spell on the app clocked in at around two-and-a-half minutes.

One indicator of the game’s popularity in the study could be due to the fact that the application was released while the research was underway. With the exception of Pokemon-Go, all applications were used regardless of speed limits.

The Jyväskylä study is the first to thoroughly explore the usage of smartphone applications in real-time traffic. Prior research has proven that using smartphones while driving is common practice, but what drivers do their phones is new scientific territory.