Why can’t drivers stop texting?

29 Jun, 2015
By: Donald W Fohrman

In light of this public risk, texting has been the focus of various safety campaigns and laws. In Illinois, drivers are prohibited from texting or using handheld cell phones for any other purpose. Still, this behavior remains persistent. Ongoing research suggests this might be due to the addictive nature of texting.

Compulsive habits

Various surveys indicate that drivers simply can’t resist reading or sending texts, even when they understand the associated dangers. According to Time magazine, in one recent study, 904 drivers answered questions about their texting habits. Encouragingly, 87 percent of the survey respondents acknowledged the risks inherent to texting while driving. However, an alarming 18 percent stated they were simply unable to stop themselves from texting while driving.

As NBC News reports, an AT&T survey published in late 2014 yielded similar findings. Out of the 1,004 respondents, 98 percent said they understood the dangers of texting while driving. However, 75 percent still reported texting while behind the wheel. According to Fox News, these respondents provided several explanations for their behavior. They cited feeling anxious or cut off from others when they went without texting. They also described experiencing symptoms of withdrawal. These findings all point to the potentially addictive nature of texting.

Addictive feedback

According to Psychology Today, texting can be addictive because it rewards the dopamine system. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that stimulates people to seek out information and gratifying activities. Texting can provide instant gratification and an immediate release of dopamine. As a result, many people may feel overwhelming urges to continue texting and experience feelings of withdrawal when they stop.

The short and unpredictable nature of texts may also help explain why some drivers can’t stop texting. Brief texts often contain incomplete information and leave people desiring more. Unpredictable stimuli, such as texts that arrive at random times and contain unknown content, are also known to promote greater dopamine release. Due to all of these factors, some people may become physically addicted to texting.

Harmful misperceptions

People who regularly text while driving may also rationalize the habit by convincing themselves that they can safely do it. According to NBC News, the AT&T survey found that over one in four respondents believed they could effectively multitask while driving. This was surprising, since only 2 percent of the drivers surveyed thought texting while driving was generally safe. This result suggests many people can’t accurately assess their own ability to multitask while driving.

A study published in 2013 supports this finding. According to National Public Radio, the study compared people’s perceptions of their ability to multitask with their actual performance. The people who considered themselves superior at multitasking and did it frequently showed the worst performance. As an Illinois car accident lawyer might agree, misperceptions of this nature could help account for the high number of drivers who persist in texting.

A prevalent problem

For many people, texting while driving may be a regular habit, rather than an occasional reckless behavior. According to Time Magazine, in the recent survey, 17 percent of drivers between ages 18 and 34 admitted to frequently or always texting while driving. Additionally, 7 percent of drivers between ages 35 and 55 confessed to doing the same.

According to Distraction.gov, research from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute points to an even higher rate of texting among certain drivers. One study concluded that one-quarter of teenagers respond to at least one text every time they drive. Furthermore, one-fifth of teenagers and one-tenth of parents carry out prolonged conversations involving multiple texts while driving.

Safety effects

Unfortunately, regardless of what these drivers may believe, they are putting themselves and others in danger by texting. As an Illinois car accident lawyer knows, texting may raise the risk of distraction-related car accidents for various reasons. For example, Distraction.gov cites the following risk factors:

  • Texting diverts visual attention from driving. According to research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the average driver looks away from the road for five seconds while sending a text. At speeds of 55 mph, a vehicle can cover the length of a football field during this interval.
  • Texting distracts drivers manually. Other VTTI research indicates engaging in visual-manual distractions generally triples a driver’s risk of crashing.
  • Texting is mentally demanding. According to research, hands-free technology does not offer significant safety benefits over handheld devices. This finding suggests that mental distraction is one of the primary reasons texting and similar activities are dangerous.

Sadly, if recent research is any indication, many drivers may ignore all of these risks. As a result, innocent people may suffer needless auto accident injuries with potentially life-changing consequences.

Legal remedies

People who have sustained injuries because other drivers were texting may have recourse. The victims of wrongful accidents may be entitled to compensation for lost earnings, disablement, medical expenses and emotional suffering. However, victims must prove the other driver acted negligently, directly causing the accident and related injuries. During this process, the assistance of an Illinois car accident lawyer may be invaluable. An attorney may be able to help a victim document the incident and navigate the claims process.

About The Author

Photo of Donald W Fohrman
After completing law school Donald became an assistant Attorney General for 7 years and was assigned to the Industrial Commission Division. During that time he spent evenings establishing his own firm. Donald became a founding partner of a large workers’ compensation/personal injury firm but decided to leave the firm in 1990 to start a smaller “boutique” firm with the belief that bigger isn’t always better!
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