Pretty much all of us have been driving down the road or highway and heard the buzz or ring of our cellphone. But even though most of us know how dangerous and distracting cellphone use is behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, many of us still feel the urge to answer the call or text. But why?
Not surprisingly, this urge is grounded squarely in our brains and may not be an easy urge to break. Why is that? Well, to understand the psychology behind texting and driving, we have to look at what happens in our brains when we receive a call or text to see why it's such a hard habit for so many to break.
The buzzing of your phone, the buzzing in your brain
According to University of Connecticut Medical School professor David Greenfield in a 2014 article for TIME magazine, an individual's compulsion to answer their phone while driving - even though they know it's wrong - stems from the fact that an "incoming text message causes the release of dopamine in the brain, which generates excitement." If the message is from someone we like or have been waiting to hear from, more dopamine is released, thereby linking cellphone use with good feelings.
Like people with gambling addictions, the more good feelings that are associated with cellphone use - whether it's sitting on the couch or behind the wheel - the more likely an individual is to do said behavior. Unfortunately, when it comes to texting and driving, the cost of being "text-obsessed" typically falls on the families of the more than 1,000 people who die in the United States each day because of distracted driving.
Will we ever learn to put the phone down?
Even though several studies, including one conducted by Car and Driver Magazine, show that texting and driving is far more dangerous than drinking and driving, many still have not made the connection. Sadly, it may take many more distracted-driving crashes and wrongful deaths before the public changes its mind - and attitude - toward this obvious public safety hazard.