Study: The Number of Drivers Streaming YouTube on the Road Is Surging

When it comes to distracted driving, Americans are entering uncharted territory. One 2018 study on behavior behind the wheel found drivers in 15 states sending more than six text messages per hour at peak times. Even on a hands-free messaging app, that takes plenty of focus off the road.

But a study released August 2 by safe-driving app Drivemode should put even more people on alarm. After studying the app usage of 757,000 drivers since the start of 2017, the data showed YouTube getting the most play among secondary apps. (Navigation, music, and messaging apps were excluded.)

In fact, between early 2017 and spring 2018, the percentage of drivers using YouTube more than doubled. It’s fair to wonder how many people use the app to stream versus those who simply watch the videos. Here’s a closer look at what Drivemode researchers found.

YouTube’s dramatic swing upward

When YouTube fell behind Audible early in 2017, it only anticipated the video app’s rise. The chart below shows the surge begin in the second quarter (April-June) and continue through the year.

After leveling off briefly early in 2018, YouTube once again headed due north. Looking at the latest data, it’s clear the streaming video platform could take 40% of all secondary app launches by the end of the summer.

With secondary driver app use in 2018, YouTube is dominant. | Drivemode

Most people don’t need reminders on this front, but just in case: Audible, the books-on-tape app, requires no visual attention. On the other hand, you might say YouTube serves as a running contest for who can make the best video.

Yet it can be used simply as an audio streaming service, much like the more popular music apps.

Digging into driver video use

Yo Koga, founder and CEO of Drivemode, explained some of the limitations when looking at the study’s results. For one thing, the huge driver sample did not include anyone using an operating system other than Android.

Meanwhile, since these drivers were using his company’s hands-free message app, you could describe them as tech-savvy. It’s possible they prefer the auto-play selection of YouTube music over Spotify or Pandora. Yet Koga couldn’t ignore YouTube’s prominence.

“Whether we like it or not, it is clear that video streaming is a top feature drivers want now,” he said.  “Given this drastic growth, video streaming apps would do well to take direct action and offer an ‘audio only’ mode.”

Self-driving car
Autonomous driving features are more popular, but can’t explain the rise in YouTube streaming. | chombosan/iStock/Getty Images

Koga also noted the rise of semi-autonomous drive features in new cars. Anyone who has encountered a Tesla driver flipping through the morning paper on the highway knows how unnerving the sight can be.

At this point, the number of vehicles equipped with this technology is negligible compared to the number of cars on U.S. roads. However, we expect it to increase dramatically in the early 2020s.

In the meantime, we’ll point out that the Bible app has climbed steadily on the list of secondary app, and even cracked the top 20 in 2018. With so many distracted drivers on the road these days, it’s good to have the Bible’s prayers so close at hand — without taking your hands off the wheel.