Personal Finance

Black Friday shoppers: Avoid this dangerous habit

Key Points
  • One in 3 Americans who shop on mobile devices have done so while driving, according to a new survey from Root Insurance.
  • Among those who have shopped while driving, 83 percent have done so during the holiday season.
  • But the potential financial consequences include tickets and crashes. 
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While you're making a Black Friday game plan, experts say there's one place where you absolutely should not shop: the driver's seat of your car.

One-third of Americans who shop on mobile devices say they have done so while driving, according to a new survey from Root Insurance, an app-based auto insurer. Among those who have shopped from behind the wheel, 83 percent did so during the holiday season.

Root and The Harris Poll surveyed 2,008 adults in early November.

On a broader scale, about 2 percent of all drivers — and 4.5 percent of drivers age 16 to 24 — "manipulate" their mobile devices while on the road, said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That includes a wide range of tasks: texting, changing the music, or online shopping, he said.

Drivers may feel a sense of urgency to shop on the road, fearing they will miss out on the best deals, said consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. In addition to fast-moving "lightning deals," retailer apps may send push notifications, alerting shoppers when prices have dropped or unexpected sales have been announced.

"Most sales these days are time sensitive. Retailers want you to shop right now," Woroch said.

But every moment of distracted driving increases the likelihood of an accident, said Joe Plattenburg, director of telematics data science at Root Insurance. And while it's never a good idea to shop while driving, that behavior is especially risky during the holidays.

There are more cars on the road, she said, and winter weather can affect road conditions. According to data from the Federal Highway Administration, snow and sleet were responsible for an average 18 percent of weather-related crashes, 14 percent of weather-related injuries and 13 percent of weather-related fatalities annually from 2007 to 2016.

Rader noted that December is a particularly hazardous month for crashes involving pedestrians, likely due to shoppers out running holiday-related errands.

"You don't want a holiday celebration to turn into a tragedy," he said.

Drivers also run the risk of fines and other consequences for using their phone in transit. Most states prohibit texting while driving, with many assessing penalties of $100 or more for a first offense, according to legal resource Nolo's

To curb distractions like retail push notifications or texts, Rader suggests using your smartphone's "Do Not Disturb" setting, or downloading another app that is specifically designed to block notifications when the car is in motion.

Use websites and apps that collate deals so that you feel confident you're getting a good price without pulling out your phone on the road, Woroch said.

"People have to realize that they can wait," she said.

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