Why Does Everyone Still Text and Drive, Despite the Dangers?

You’re playing Russian roulette with everyone else on the road

Angelina Holloway was a bubbly, 19-year-old had a bright future ahead of her. She had just graduated from high school, was in love, and had plans to travel to Uganda as a missionary.

While driving home on April 18, 2016, Angelina decided to send a quick text to her boyfriend.

At 2:11 pm, she wrote: “I can’t wait to see you this weekend!”

At 2:15 pm, a deputy located Angelina’s totaled car, her dead body, and her phone.

Investigators determined that she had veered off the road and smashed into a tree. Angelina died on impact, but her memory still remains alive in her mother, Marvalene Corlett. Corlett is devastated — not only because she will never see Angelina again, but because her daughter “knew better”.

Marvalene Corlett has since launched the #JustDriveCitrus campaign with the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office. Those who drive along Highway 41 are haunted by pictures of Angelina’s face as well as the last text message she ever sent. If Corlett can prevent just one person from making the same mistake her daughter did, the campaign will be a success.

But, Angelina is far from the only person to ever text and drive — let alone die from it.

9 people are killed each day in car accidents caused by distracted drivers, and nearly a 1,000 are injured. It’s difficult to determine just how many people text and drive on a daily basis, but experts have found that nearly half of all U.S. high schoolers do it, and that number is likely higher for adults.

It’s safe to say that texting and driving is dangerous — even more so than drunk driving. Taking your eyes off the road for five seconds on the highway is the equivalent to driving the length of a football field blind.

Yet, despite the risks, the illegality of it, and all of the warnings, people still do it. They do it a lot. They do it so much that I lose count of how many drivers I see each day with their eyes locked on their phones rather than the road.

I can’t say that I’m innocent. There have been times when I’ve picked up the phone to change a song, or shoot off a quick text to someone. At the time, I never once doubted that I still had full control of my vehicle. But the truth is that I’m lucky — a few more seconds of inattention and I might have veered off the road like Angelina, drifted into another lane or hit the guardrail.

It is, at this point, not just about raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. In a survey by AT&T, ninety-eight percent of drivers who admitted to texting and driving said they knew the risks. They had seen the campaigns, the PSAs, and all the sad stories — but they did it anyway.

Those who choose to text and drive are playing Russian roulette with everyone else on the road, but the real question here is why?

Everyone else is doing it, so it must be fine

According to Steven Seiler, an assistant professor at Tenessee Technological University, it all comes down to “technological deviance” — the idea that our technology usage is influenced by our peers.

When we see friends and family members texting and driving without any consequences (such as getting into a wreck or pulled over), our brains start to think that it’s a normalized, acceptable behavior. After all, it’s one thing to hear about distracted driving accidents, but it’s another thing to experience one first-hand.

This is also coupled with the fact that we tend to believe the more a behavior is practiced, the safer it must be. The more that I see other drivers with their phones out, the more I start to think it’s okay for me to do the same.

This is, of course, not true. Forty million Americans smoke cigarettes, but that doesn’t make it any less detrimental to our health. It also doesn’t mean I should swing by the convenience store and pick up a pack of Marlboros either.

Even if our friends and family continue to text and drive without suffering any kind of repercussions, it doesn’t mean we’ll be as lucky.

Texting can be an addiction

Some people just can’t put down the phone — even when they’re driving. Fourteen percent of drivers who participated in the AT&T survey said they were “addicted” to texting.

If they received a message while on the road (or even thought that they might have), they felt anxious until they responded.

David Greenfield, a professor at the University of Connecticut’s School of Medicine who studies the effects of technology on the brain, says that texting addictions are the real deal.

When we anticipate text messages, dopamine levels in our brain actually rise. When we’re expecting a message from a significant other or family member, this pleasure increases even more.

As much as we may want to just take a quick peek at a new message or shoot off a response, we shouldn’t. And, I think that if we’re honest with ourselves, we can probably admit that any text messages we get on the road aren’t important enough for us to risk our lives.

If it really is so important that requires your immediate attention, you should just pull over or get off at an exit. The last thing you want is to be dealing with an emergency and trying to drive.

What’s the solution?

Seiler and Greenfield have different ideas about tackling the texting-and-driving epidemic. Seiler believes the best method to keep people’s attention on the road is by making cars caller-friendly or implementing the widespread use of features like “vehicle-to-voice” or “talk-to-text”. This way, drivers can still communicate without actually picking up a phone.

Greenfield has other ideas and thinks that cell phone use should not be encouraged at all in the car. By passing stricter laws about texting and creating more anti-texting campaigns like Corlett’s, Greenfield believes that the culture surrounding this behavior will change.

Both of these are great solutions, but they attack this issue on a societal level — and the root of it is personal. It’s not just about what lawmakers, cops, or car manufacturers will do about texting and driving, it’s also about what you will do. What choice will you make the next time you get into the car?

I have, since researching this issue, implemented a new plan of action regarding my phone in the car. I used to keep my phone beside me, but now I keep it tucked away in my purse on the floor of the passenger seat. This ensures that my phone is out of reach, and no longer convenient for me to glance at when I receive a message. To some people, this might seem overly cautious, but I also know that it stops me from picking up my phone. I also know that as long as I do this, I won’t cause an accident by texting and driving.

When I’m not writing, you can usually find me hanging out with my cats. pricelindy@gmail.com

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