Self-delusion and "addiction" keep drivers texting, despite risks

By now, most drivers are well aware that texting behind the wheel is a dangerous habit that substantially increases the risk of car accidents and injuries. However, as anyone who has taken a peek through the windows of passing cars can verify, many Missouri motorists seem unwilling or unable to stop.


There are most likely a variety of factors that contribute to the ongoing prevalence of distracted driving in the face of such well-known risks. One issue may be that while people are often well-informed about the risks that other drivers pose while texting, they often fail to make the connection to their own behavior.

A study conducted by researchers at Kings College in Pennsylvania showed that 80 percent of college students surveyed admitted to texting while driving even though they widely agreed that it is a dangerous activity. The catch, it seems, is that many of the students - males in particular - considered themselves to be better drivers than most, and therefore more adept at multitasking while on the road.

Unfortunately, chances are good that these drivers are overestimating their own abilities. As MIT neuroscience professor Earl K. Miller explained recently to Fox News, the people who have the most confidence in their ability to multitask actually are often the ones who are worst at it. This self-delusion, he says, is a way of rationalizing their own behavior in order to continue to do something that they intellectually know to be dangerous.


But if texting drivers know that what they are doing is dangerous, why would they want to continue it at all? For some drivers, at least in part, it may be a matter of brain chemistry. According to Dr. David Greenfield, a technology addiction expert quoted recently by Forbes, the act of receiving a text, email message or social media update causes the brain to release a powerful chemical called dopamine - the same chemical that plays a role in alcoholism, smoking or gambling addiction.

When a text message triggers a release of dopamine into the brain, it causes a brief surge in feelings of pleasure and happiness. Those feelings then subside, which in turn causes the brain to crave a new "hit." This, Greenfield says, is part of what makes it so difficult for some drivers to resist the urge to check their phones even though they know it is unsafe, just as it makes it difficult for addicted gamblers to resist the temptation of placing a bet when they know they should not.


Despite years of efforts by parents, lawmakers and special interest groups to combat distracted driving and raise awareness about the issue, distracted drivers remain a constant and pervasive threat to public safety in the United States. In fact, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are about 660,000 drivers using handheld phones and other mobile devices at any given moment between dawn and dusk throughout the nation. This number has been holding steady since 2010.


If you or a family member is hurt by a distracted driver in Missouri, you may be able to receive compensation to help cover the cost of your medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering. By talking things over with an attorney, you can explore your legal options and learn how to protect your right to seek compensation through the civil legal system.



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