Beware the ‘Zoom Zombie’?

April 16, 2021

John Bendel


Heard of the “Zoom Zombies”? According to a survey by Root Insurance, 54% of participants report trouble concentrating after videoconferencing using apps like Zoom. Presumably, a resulting zombie-like state affects their driving. Zoom and other videoconferencing apps have become popular since so many people now work from home.

“When work life became synonymous with home life, COVID-19 created new distractions and challenges for American drivers getting behind the wheel of a car,” Root said in a news release. The Zoom Zombies survey was covered on TV, in newspapers, and online.

Root discovered the Zoom Zombies by asking 1,819 participants in an online survey – a non-scientific way to investigate such a phenomenon if in fact it really exists. For example, how many those surveyed were just being ironic – using a check box to roll their eyes at the tedium of endless Zoom meetings?

Experts who enjoy being quoted in news stories – even sketchy ones like most of the Zoom Zombie coverage – claim that packed Zoom screens are a sensory overload that could indeed lead to distracted driving afterward.

More sensory overload than a kindergarten classroom or a busy dispatchers’ monitors? There are many – too many – distracted drivers out there, we all know.

But is there really any such thing as a Zoom Zombie? I doubt it.

No matter. It’s all good publicity for an insurance company with an interesting twist on who it will or will not cover. Root asks prospective customers to take a road test that involves a specific app on your phone that goes with you as you drive for a few weeks. The data goes back to Root, which then may or may not offer you an insurance quote based on how you drove. Root aggregates the data into reports it releases to the media. Those reports, while curious if not downright goofy, can at least be entertaining.

Besides speed and hard braking, the Root app catalogs what Root calls “Distracted Driving Events,” moments when according to Root’s 2021 Distracted Driving Report “unusual phone activity is detected from a driver’s smartphone sensors while the car is in motion.” If you used your phone while driving, Root knows it. Apparently, most everyone does it. It’s a matter of how often.

In the report, Root says the average driver checks their phone 18 times every 100 miles. That works out to a phone check every 5.5 miles or so. The report says Montana drivers are the most focused – lease distracted – of the states where Root does business. By contrast, South Carolina drivers are the most distracted, checking their phones almost 55% more often than Montana drivers. Oregon and Utah follow Montana with the least distracted drivers. South Carolina is preceded on the most-distracted list by Maryland and Illinois, where drivers apparently check their phones a lot.

By metropolitan area, the most distracted drivers are in Baltimore, Chicago, and Philadelphia. The least distracted are in Eugene Ore.; Reno, Nevada; and Ogden-Layton Utah.

Not surprisingly, the Northeast has the most distracted drivers. The West has the least.

Sorting by age, the report says drivers 75 or older are the least distracted drivers, less than half as distracted than the most distracted group, drivers 25 and younger. Married drivers are less distracted than singles.

But before you begin taking this survey seriously, consider that Root sorts its results by a driver’s first name. Turns out you’re less distracted if you’re named Debra or Tammy. The least distracted drivers are named Donna.

Now things get goofy. Root also breaks down the data by the make of a participant’s car. The most distracted drivers drive a BMW, Mercedes or Infiniti. The least distracted drive a Smart Car, Isuzu, or – the least distracted of all – Plymouth.

Plymouth? Really? They stopped making Plymouths in 2001, 20 years ago. LL


John Bendel is Land Line’s contributing editor-at-large. A former trucker, former editor at National Lampoon and two trucking magazines, John is an author, photographer, and freelancer. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and many U.S. newspapers.