You would have to be living under a rock not to know that distracted driving, particularly through cellphone use, is a huge issue these days.
State have passed laws against it. There are reminders not to text and drive on billboards, on flashing roadside signs and on rental car dashboards. There are commercials about it. Even phone manufacturers have gotten into the act -- some phones automatically shut off if you're traveling at certain speeds unless you manually tell them you're a passenger, not the driver. Games and apps you can use on your phone contain similar warnings and disabling functions.
So, why do people keep picking up their cellphones while driving?
If everybody knows it is a bad idea, why does anybody even dream of picking up a phone while behind the wheel?
Scientists think they have the answer -- and the answer may just bring the cure.
According to cognitive psychologists, the reason people pick up the phone when they drive is nothing short of a chemical in the brain that a lot of people are vaguely familiar with: dopamine.
Dopamine is a naturally-produced substance that signals rewards or satisfaction in human brains. When it works best, it helps humans remember what is good for them and how to get the most pleasure out of life. Unfortunately, it can also lead the way to addictive behaviors as people seek the dopamine rush that comes from things like drugs, sex, gambling and even dangerous activities like driving too fast.
Sociologists and psychologists both say that phones have become an intrinsic part of most people's social networks -- and social contacts drive dopamine levels up.
In other words, people pick up their phones while they're driving and check the latest text or note from Messenger for the same reason that a lot of people lose a couple of hours of productivity a day to social media sites: They're getting a dopamine fix from it.
Last year, roadway fatalities increased 6 percent. If dopamine and distracted driving are the cause, what's the cure?
It may be time to revert back to an almost unthinkable era where cars weren't "wired in" to the Internet of Things. That will shut off the driver's access to those dopamine-driven behaviors.
In the meantime: turn your phone off -- or even lock it in the trunk -- while you drive.
Source: www.detroitnews.com, "Expert weighs in on why drivers use their phones," Jessica Lee, Dec. 26, 2017