Why Do Some Drivers Text Behind the Wheel?

11.03.2015
HR & Safety

We all know that texting while driving can be extremely dangerous, even deadly. So why do some drivers still do it? Do they feel an urge or obligation to reply to a text message immediately? Do they feel a message is too important to temporarily ignore?
The answer may have to with their psychological ability, or inability, to wait for rewards, according to a new study at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Traffic-related fatalities are the leading type of job-related deaths. Knowing what motivates texting while driving is a basic prerequisite for designing and evaluating effective countermeasures in workplace safety programs.
In this preliminary study, researchers found that voluntary participants who reported texting while driving were more vulnerable than their non-texting peers to impulsive decision-making.
Participants who reported texting while driving on a study questionnaire were more likely than non-texting drivers to show a preference for immediate, smaller amounts of hypothetical money over delayed, larger amounts that they would receive after waiting weeks to months. In other words, the texting drivers were too impulsive to wait.
Participants included 147 undergraduate students who attended the same northeastern state university, where they were taking introductory psychology courses. For participating in the study, the students received course credit.
The study confirms previous research showing that texting drivers are more impulsive than non-texting drivers are. But a unique finding in this study is how well the preferences for immediate versus delayed rewards predicted texting behavior.
According to the researchers, measures of reward preferences may be useful for identifying drivers who are at increased risk of texting while driving. Future research in this area should study decision-making under realistic texting scenarios using typical interpersonal and social rewards that result from texting. The goal is to design better interventions or technologies that alter a driver’s decision to text while driving or while engaged in other risky behaviors.

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