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Why are drivers addicted to their phones?

| Apr 2, 2019 | Car Accidents

How many times have you been driving to work only to notice that a car ahead of you is moving slower than the traffic around it? You watch carefully as you pass, leaving as much room as possible, and see the driver looking at a phone held against the steering wheel. Or maybe you hang back and drive cautiously as that driver veers into your lane before raising his head with a jerk, surprised to find himself halfway in another lane.

These types of scenes are all-too common on Pennsylvanian roadways and across the nation. But the problem isn’t that we don’t know better. We do know better, but we make these mistakes over and over all the same. As a result, we have heard about cellphones playing a role in more than one out of every four crashes.

Three Ways We Fool Ourselves

WHYY recently took a look at the nation’s cellphone addiction. The report cited some common statistics—like the fact that sending a text message at 70 miles per hour is almost the same as driving with your eyes closed for the length of 1.5 football fields. But the report also took a harder look at the ways people justify their cellphone use while driving.

The author noted three common justifications for our bad behaviors. These include:

  • Our desire for immediate gratification often overwhelms our worries about uncertain dangers in the future.
  • We tend to overestimate our driving skills. The report noted that 9 out of 10 people believe they are safer than the drivers around them.
  • We are biased to think that because we got away with calling or texting in the recent past, making another call or writing another text isn’t really a big deal. The report called this a “recency bias.”

On top of these flawed arguments, the report noted that nearly 1 in 12 drivers is a phone addict—someone who’s on the phone roughly 30% of the time he or she is driving. The term “addict” may sound extreme, but cellphones and their notifications are designed to trigger signals in our brain. They can fuel the release of dopamine and serotonin like other drugs or addictive behaviors.

Cell Phones And Driving: A Dangerous Mix

Even though Pennsylvania’s laws ban texting, they allow drivers to use their cellphones to make calls. However, when the National Safety Council reported that 26% of all accidents involved cellphones, only 5% of those accidents involved texting. More than four times as many accidents involved people talking on the phone.

It’s fair to say that following the letter of the law isn’t enough to keep you safe. The best way to avoid allowing your cellphone to distract you while you’re driving is to put it away and out of reach. When you don’t allow distractions, you significantly improve your chance of getting safely to work and home. You might even notice when the driver ahead of you drifts into your lane mid-text.

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