DOPAMINE INJECTION BEHIND THE WHEEL: The act of answering and sending texts while behind the wheel provides a quick dopamine release for some, a feeling similar to gambling or using drugs. Image: Shutterstock
NEW YORK - Most would agree that texting and driving is dangerous. Sadly, drivers do it anyway.
A survey by US telecommunications specialist, AT&T, found that 98% of participating drivers who own cellphones and text regularly, said they were aware of the dangers. Alarmingly, 75% of them admitted to texting while driving, despite laws against it.
Two-thirds said they have read text messages while stopped at a red light or stop sign, while more than a 25% said they have sent texts while driving. More than 25% of texting drivers believed they "can easily do several things at once, even while driving."
NEW TECH TO SILENCE PHONES
The telephone survey of 1004 US adults was released by AT&T as part of an anti-texting-and-driving campaign. The company worked with David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and a professor at the University of Connecticut's School of Medicine.
The survey is as a result of AT&T expands the availability of a free app, DriveMode, that silences text message alerts and activates automatically when a person is moving 24km/h or faster (Passengers can however disable it).
The DriveMode app will be available for iPhones after being previously being accessible on Android and BlackBerry phones for AT&T users. The iPhone version will be available to customers of competing carriers as well but some functions will work only on AT&T devices.
TEXT-AND-DRIVE OUT OF 'HABIT'?
The study covered cellphone owners, aged 16 to 65-years-old, who drive almost every day and text at least once a day. Greenfield said the survey is the latest to show a discrepancy between people's attitudes and behaviors.
It found a range of reasons why drivers text behind the wheel; 43% of texting drivers said they want to "stay connected" to friends, family and work. Nearly a third did it out of habit.
Among other reasons for texting and driving:
• 28% said they are worried about missing out of something important if they don't check their phones right away.
• More than 25% believed that their driving performance is not affected by texting, and just as many people said they believe that others expect them to respond to texts "right away."
• Only 6% answered that they are "addicted to texting," although 14% admitted that they are "anxious" if they don't respond to a text right away, and 17% feel "a sense of satisfaction" when they can read or respond to a text message.
'SOMETHING I STRUGGLE WITH
Reggie Shaw was 19 in 2006 when he caused a car crash while texting at the wheel, killing two people. Shaw does not remember what he was texting.
Shaw speaks out against texting and driving: "It's something I struggle with every day. I know that I need to go out and talk to others about it. I don't want others to make the same mistake I did.
"Being on my phone when I drove was something I did all the time. It was just driving to me. I guess you'd call it ignorance but I never understood that it was dangerous. How could me being on the phone cause a car accident?"
Today, his phone is off while he's driving. Never in the past eight years since the crash, he says, has he received a phone call or text message that was so important that it couldn't wait until he stopped.
WORLD'S SMALLEST SLOT MACHINES
Greenfield, who studies the effects of digital technology on the brain, likes to call smartphones "the world's smallest slot machines" because they affect the brain in similar ways that gambling or drugs can. Dopamine levels increase as you anticipate messages, and that leads to higher levels of pleasure. Getting desirable messages can increase dopamine levels further.
While all distractions can be dangerous, much of the focus has been on texting and driving, Greenfield said, because "it's ongoing and because there is an anticipatory aspect to it."
Greenfield said people should not use their phone at all while driving, but acknowledges that this might not be realistic. Apps, public education and laws that ban texting and driving, he said, will all help change people's behavior, just as anti-drunken-driving laws and public education campaigns have reduced drunken driving over the past few decades.