Although distracted driving can be deadly, many people still admit that they check their phones while in the car. Why would people know the huge risks, yet keep doing this dangerous habit? The Center for Internet and Technology addiction founder David Greenfield says it’s because smart phone notifications are addictive, and make your brain feel instinctively compelled to see what the ding might mean.
Your brain on smart phone
Our brains actually aren’t wired to do two things at once – if you’re trying to do one task, like driving, while talking on the phone, your brain can really only focus on one of the tasks. And although talking to a passenger is said to be just as distracting, research says that’s not true.
A notification on your phone releases dopamine into your system – dopamine is a brain chemical that, when released, affects the “reward” part of the brain. Dopamine is released as the brain has a pleasurable experience, like eating a favorite food, having sex or using drugs or alcohol. Your brain is anticipating that happy feeling, and without really knowing it, we’re chasing that reward by awaiting a notification that someone replied to us. And as the dopamine is released, it also shuts down the part of the brain that has to do with judgment and reasoning. So instead of thinking that this text or tweet isn’t important right now and you can ignore it, your brain isn’t letting you use your best judgment.
Young drivers more distracted by phones
Drivers with more experience may have a less difficult time with multi-tasking. The scariest statistics indicate that younger drivers are more likely to text or talk and drive – less experience and more likely to be distracted by a phone is a deadly combination. Although drivers in their 20s are in 23 percent of fatal vehicle accidents, they represent 38 percent of the distracted drivers on their phone caused the accident.
What can be done?
In a 2013 survey by AT&T, 98 percent of people surveyed said they knew it’s wrong to text and drive, but half admitted that they still do it. Even hands-free devices while driving have been shown to be just as distracting. So what can be done about something that makes your brain addicted to the next ding?
Greenfield says the solution to the problem isn’t clear, because it’s hard to get people to stop doing something pleasurable and use willpower, like going on a diet. He suggests the public needs more education so that drivers realize the problem is bigger than them — that it can be incredibly deadly not just for themselves, but other innocent people.