By: Cheryl Maguire
“Is that person drunk?” I asked my husband.
It was nighttime. We were driving on a highway while the person in front of us was swerving back and forth in between their lane. Since I learned how to drive in the 80’s, my initial thought when I witnessed this is, “they must be drunk.” My husband had a more appropriate response.
“I bet they are texting.”
As much as I hate to admit this, he was right! We drove past the car and saw the person staring at their illuminated phone instead of the road. What surprised me even more than my husband being correct, is the person driving was an adult. I thought teenagers, who don’t fully grasp the dangers of texting while driving, were the only offenders. Clearly, I was wrong about that too.
After this incident, I have unfortunately witnessed many other similar situations of adults driving while texting. The reason I noticed it is because they are driving over the double yellow line, driving really slowly, or don’t start driving when the light turns green. When I pass them, I always see either the phone in their hand or on their dashboard, with their attention focused there instead of the road.
Recently, a friend of mine admitted to me she texts while driving. She even got into an accident because of it but said, “I know it’s awful but I still do it anyway.”
According to AAA, 45% of adults ages 25-39 and 24% of adults ages 40-59% admit to texting while driving. During this same survey, 96% of the people believe driving while texting is a serious threat.
So why are so many people texting anyway?
AT&T conducted a survey and found the main reasons people text while driving despite knowing the dangers are:
- They are worried about missing out of something important if they don’t check their phones right away.
- They believe that others expect them to respond to texts “right away.”
- They admitted they are “addicted to texting.”
There are scientific reasons people feel compelled to both read and answer text messages. David Greenfield is a psychologist who has studied smartphone addiction. His research demonstrated that when you hear the sound informing you have a text message, your brain receives dopamine which is a chemical related to pleasure. When you experience this increase of dopamine your brain shuts off the prefrontal cortex which is related to judgment and reasoning. This combination leads to answering a text message while driving, even though you know it’s dangerous.
According to the FCC, in 2014 there were 3,179 people killed and an estimated additional 431,000 people wounded in motor vehicle crashes due to distracted drivers. This could easily be prevented by people not using their phone while driving.
What can you do to prevent texting while driving?
- Either turn off your phone or silence it while driving. This will prevent the scientifically proven urge to answer the text when you hear the sound.
- If you must leave your phone on, pull over to answer a text message. The time it takes to pull over is insignificant compared to getting into an accident.
- Be a role model for your children and teenager drivers. If you are texting while driving, how can you expect them not to?
- Put an app on your phone which disables it while driving. The Canary app and AT&T DriveMode app are both free and disable your phone while in motion. The AT&T DriveMode will even send a text message if you receive one, stating you are currently driving and can’t answer the text now.
- Educate and discuss with other people the dangers of driving while texting.