Drivers Know the Risk But Use Phones Anyway for the Rush

Nov 06, 2014 04:55 PM EST | Jordan Ecarma

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In the latest evidence that we're addicted to staying connected, a new survey has found that the majority of drivers check their smartphones behind the wheel even though they're aware that distracted driving is dangerous.

An expert has credited that dopamine rush that comes from getting a text or Facebook notification.

"We compulsively check our phones because every time we get an update through text, e-mail or social media, we experience an elevation of dopamine, which is a neurochemical in the brain that makes us feel happy," said David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, as quoted by the Washington Post.

Greenfield worked with AT&T on a survey of 1,000 drivers to find that 98 percent of those polled realize that texting while driving is dangerous--and yet 74 percent do it anyway.

"If that desire for a dopamine fix leads us to check our phones while we're driving, a simple text can turn deadly," said Greenfield, who is also an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.  

The study leader compared the appeal of a new text message to the lure of the slot machine since both involve compulsive behavior that people may have to fight to overcome, TIME reported.

People are risking a lot to get that texting-behind-the-wheel rush: 3,300 traffic deaths and 420,000 injuries each year are connected with distracted driving.

Of those surveyed, 36 percent said they can multi-task behind the wheel. Some explained their texting habits as part of a need to stay connected with others; another reason given was the fear of missing an important message.

The problem already has awareness campaigns aplenty, but they won't make a difference until drivers make a conscious effort to kick the habit.

"In order to really include oneself in a group that has a problem with texting and driving, they have to admit their own fallibility, and we're loath to do that," said Greenfield, as quoted by TIME.

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