When women aren't safer drivers than men

Last Updated Apr 19, 2018 9:03 AM EDT

Women are safer drivers than men by many measures. But a new study finds that women are a bit more likely than men to be distracted by using their cellphones while behind the wheel.

In this study, online insurance marketplace EverQuote tracked 781 million miles driven in 2017 by 300,000 users who had downloaded its app that records driving behavior. It found that women drivers used a handheld cell phone sometime during 42 percent of individual trips they made, while that figure for men was 38 percent.

That squares with 2016 research done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which also found women slightly more likely to be using a handheld phone while driving.

By other measures, men are riskier drivers. A previous study by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that men were more likely to speed, not use their seat belts and drive while under the influence of alcohol. Male drivers make up twice as many traffic fatalities as women. However, those figures include accidents involving large trucks, which men are likelier to be driving.

Individual insurance companies such as Progressive (PGR) already have technology that measures unsafe driving such as speeding, hard accelerating or braking, and hard turning. If you can demonstrate that you're a safe driver, you can qualify for a discount on your auto insurance.

The EverQuote app also measures those factors. But it adds the ability to track handheld phone use. The app records an incident of phone use if the device is unlocked with the screen on. Also, the phone must be moved in a way to indicate it's in the driver's hand, which would include texting as well as calling. Finally, the vehicle must be moving faster than a minimum speed to count as an incident of cellphone use while driving.

Distracted driving remains a huge risk. Nine Americans die every day, and 1,000 more are injured in accidents caused by distracted driving, according to an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Statisticians at the IIHS calculate that texting while driving -- the most dangerous behavior -- makes you five times as likely to be involved in a crash than if you drive with no distraction.

Individual states have been trying to deal with this issue. Texting while driving is banned in 47 states, while 15 states ban all cellphone use while driving. Novice drivers are banned from any cellphone use in 38 states. Of the five states with the least cellphone use in the EverQuote study, four -- Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and Washington -- had all three cellphone laws.

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.