Dovetailing with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood's campaign to quell distracted driving, a poll released by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. revealed there perhaps are even greater dangers facing drivers these days. The number of distractions for drivers continues to rise, as new smartphone and in-vehicle technologies continue to flood the market, further enticing motorists' minds to meander while on the road.

A public opinion poll, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Nationwide, found that 38% of drivers say they have been hit or nearly hit by a driver distracted by a cell phone.

Conducted via telephone last month, the survey polled 1,004 adults, and confirmed DOT's fears, as Nationwide found that Americans’ increasing obsessions with smartphone applications is creating yet another distraction behind the wheel, falling into place behind to talking on the phone and texting while driving.

According to a previous distracted driving survey (conducted for Nationwide by Harris in April 2010), among the millions of Americans who download mobile apps for smartphones, more than one in four admit to using those apps while driving.

“The number of Americans who multi-task by using a mobile application while driving becomes more troubling as the market for feature phones and applications steadily grows,” says Bill Windsor, Nationwide’s associate VP for Consumer Safety. “This summer alone, a multitude of new generation cell phones—including the new iPhone—will hit the market offering more features to multi-task on the go.”

So what are people doing with their phones behind the wheel? According to the survey, the cell phone apps most used while driving are ones that allow drivers to access GPS, send and receive e-mail, search the Internet and read and post messages on Facebook and Twitter.

“Many of the 500 million Facebook users have an app on their phone so they can read and post messages when they’re away from their computer,” Windsor adds. “Social networking has become an obsession for many people, but it’s critical that people not try to do it while driving. No post or tweet is so important it’s worth losing your life over.”

Nationwide also found that technological distractions while driving are not just cell phone related. The survey revealed that four out of 10 drivers have vehicles with built-in technology, including a DVD player or video monitor (17%), music search (14%), the capability to make phone calls (13%), GPS (13%) and Internet access (2%).

Of those who have these devices, the survey found that 82% of drivers use the music search feature, 85% use the DVD/video monitor, 91% use GPS and 68% use the phone capability.

“As car makers continue to provide in-car technologies, including video, TV and Internet, a good percentage of Americans are going to misuse these devices,” Windsor says. “Americans can’t seem to resist the temptation of using new technology while they’re driving. Whether it is the latest smartphone or new in-car technology, many drivers seem more concerned about these toys than focusing on the road.”

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