The Science of Distraction
According to the Travelers Risk Index, most people surveyed believe that driving while using personal technology is extremely risky, but that doesn't stop some from taking chances. 26% of those surveyed who said they engage in distracted driving believe they can do so safely. This disparity raises some important questions about how we're able to recognize the dangers of distracted driving yet continue to engage in this risky behavior.
As Dr. Kit Delgado, an emergency physician and injury prevention researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, explains, humans can be flawed decision-makers. We experience several biases that regularly impact our decision-making skills, including:
- Present Bias – We tend to weigh immediate benefits more than bigger benefits in the future.
- Social Distance – The compulsion to respond to a message is much stronger if we are emotionally connected to the messenger even if the risk of crashing is just as high.
- Recency Bias – If we complete hundreds of trips without a collision, the risk may not seem real.
- Overconfidence Bias – We may think we’re better drivers than everyone else on the road.
- Social Norms – If we see other people driving distracted, we may question whether it is really that important for us to change our behavior.
With these biases in mind, what can we do to combat our distraction? Perhaps the most reliable approach is to remove the temptation completely. Make time to eat or drink before you leave the house, program your navigation system before you start to drive, and prevent notifications on your cellphone by enabling Do Not Disturb While Driving. Doing this only takes a minute. On Apple devices, go to Settings > Do Not Disturb. Scroll down to Do Not Disturb While Driving, click Activate and then select Automatically. These settings can also send auto-replies back to incoming text messages and save the notifications for viewing once the driver has come to a stop. Some Android devices have similar settings available or you can search for an app with the same functionality. For more information, visit www.besafir.org/dnd.