The Data Is In, I'm a Distracted Driver
Before moving to Tennessee from Seattle, Robby Macdonnell did not even own a car so driving was a new feeling for him. He started transportation logging and time-tracking after realizing that he was spending more than an hour a day driving. He wanted to have some bragging rights about how he is not as bad as other people when it comes to being a distracted driver. He combined two data streams, using Automatic and RescueTime, to prove that he does not use his phone while driving nearly as often as other drivers. Only the data didn’t agree.
Automatic | RescueTime
I really only started looking into my driving time because if feel that it's something that I do a whole lot more now than I used to. I moved from Tennessee a couple of years ago from Seattle, and I didn't even own a car before I moved. So spending a lot of time driving is a pretty new feeling for me. So that felt like something I should probably understand better.
Also, it seemed it could be a fun Quantified Self project because driving is pretty easy to track these days. So I used a device called an Automatic to track my driving time, and that's a little thing that plugs into your cars diagnostic port, and you just leave it there and it collects data over –it collects data a lot about your driving habits and your cars performance. And I looked at a couple of month worth of data, and I realized yeah, I spend a lot of time in a car now.
I’m driving about 100 minutes a day which coming from where I used to be where I was driving literally zero minutes a day felt kind of gross I guess. But while I was doing this analysis I realized that all these trips I’m taking have start and stop times, and I should be able to line that time up with the data that I have in Rescue Time about my phone usage. And I’ll be able to see when I’m doing things on my phone while I’m driving.
And that was pretty interesting to me not because I thought that I would have a problem with it, but because I can be a really huge jerk when it comes to other peoples distracted driving time. So I will see somebody driving towards me with you know, their face buried in their phone and I’ll get gloriously indignant about it.
And so I figured that I would do this analysis, and I'd come up with some bragging right about how I wasn't as bad as other people, but that is not the story that the data told.
The first pass was that 28% of my time when my ignition was on, I was doing something on my phone. And that number came up on my screen, and I'm just horrified, just like no way. That just absolutely can’t be right. What am I doing wrong here, this data’s stupid. And so I started looking for reasons why it was an awful lot, and I came up with a couple of things.
Whenever I get into my car, I will almost always spend a few minute after turning it on, looking for music to listen to on my phone. And then when I get to where I'm going, I usually hang out in the air conditioning for a little while because especially in the summertime in Nashville it's hot and muggy.
So I corrected for all that stuff, and still the numbers didn’t look good. Basically, a quarter of my time that I’m in my car, I’m doing something on my phone and that feels horrible, like I really don’t want that number to be the answer to that question about me.
And it was also weird because it felt like a huge disconnect like I did not see that coming, and it feels like I should. So I wasn't quite ready to accept it yet. So I ended up turning the data over in a bunch of different ways, looking for anomalies or looking for a big spike that would explain things, and say like, oh, that’s what’s driving your averages way up. But the more and more I did it I couldn’t find anything.
You know, it was really confusing, and I was kind of figuring this out, so for the next few days, I decided to pay really close attention to those moments, where I would be behind the wheel, and my phone would end up in my hand. And it turns out there were actually quite a lot of them.
Somethings kind of mad sense, like if I was driving somewhere and I would get a phone call, or I would end up needing to look up directions somewhere. And you know, they’re still distracting but at least understandable. I mean lots of people do that.
But then there were some other things that kind of made a little bit of less sense. I realized that a lot of times I would stop at stop light, and immediately, unconsciously just pull out my phone and start doing something.
And then the light would turn green, but I'm not done, so now I'm just going to go and now I'm checking Facebook, or I would get a notification. My phone would buzz, and you know, just in that moment just didn't think about it, it's totally fine, just check on it. That used to not be so much of a problem because I used to be really be good about keeping notifications turned off of my phone, but I kind of let that slip a little bit.
But then there were somethings that just, I have no justification for at all. I would be driving down the road, and I would have some random thought. And it was usually like a ridiculous like, how many films are in the Air Bud franchise or something. And I would have to start Googling it right then and there, and it can't wait. Except it totally can wait and I know this so what's the deal.
So it kind of made me think about a lot of stuff going on in my life. And I realized that 2015 been really really stressful for me. There’s just been a lot of things going on, and I think these behaviors are things that I wouldn’t have normally consciously chosen to do. But it’s kind of me cracking under the pressure a little bit.
So, at this point I accept it. This is what’s happening. This data’s good, it’s correct. You know what do I do with it and where do I go from here.
Obvious thing is to start driving better, which I did for a couple of weeks, but then you know the shock of seeing the data kind of wears off, and you start to slide back towards bad habits, but I was able to make a couple of changes that had some longer lasting effects.
The first one was to deal with the notifications on my phone. I made a log I think for two weeks of every single notification I got, and I was able to go in, and app by app clear out about 60% of them. And then the other 40%, mostly I was able to making them silent, so that felt great. And I actually felt great if I was driving or not. I'm a lot calmer now, and I feel a lot more in control now that my phone isn't buzzing in my pocket every minute.
The other thing that I did was say, you know what, maybe I'm just really distracted by nature right now, so what if we took the car out of the equation altogether. And I used the experience as motivation to by a bike then I subsequently found out I really enjoy having a bike.
So you know I'm getting a lot of exercise, and it's hard for me to get as distracted on a bike as it is when I'm in a car. So yeah, these are both good changes and they seem to have helped because I went and ran the numbers again a month or so later and I was down to about 12%.
So there's still sometimes going on, but it's about half of what I was before, so that feels pretty good. The whole process was a little bit uncomfortable, but if you think about it, it's probably the best way possible to learn something like this. Because how do most people realize that they're bad drivers. Like if they crash their car into something, it's usually really expensive. They might hurt themselves; they might hurt somebody else, and I don't want to do any of that. So instead I get to look at numbers on a spreadsheet and figure it out that way, and that feels like a way better alternative. So while it wasn’t you know, it wasn’t that fun to confront myself. I’m actually really really glad that I did.
So it’s good, thanks!