Do you know how much you're texting while driving? Study says no

Sep 26, 2012

Texting while driving is a serious threat to public safety, but a new University of Michigan study suggests that we might not be aware of our actions.

U-M researchers found that texting while driving is predicted by a person's level of ""—more so than how much someone texts.

When people check their cell phones without thinking about it, the habit represents a type of automatic behavior, or automaticity, the researchers say. Automaticity, which was the key variable in the study, is triggered by situational cues and lacks control, awareness, intention and attention.

"In other words, some individuals automatically feel compelled to check for, read and respond to new messages, and may not even realize they have done so while driving until after the fact," says Joseph Bayer, a doctoral student in the Department of and the study's lead author.

This first-of-its-kind study, which identifies the role of unconscious in texting and driving, is different from other research that has focused on the effects of this behavior. Thus, the current study investigates the role of habit in texting while driving, with a focus on how (rather than how much) the behavior is carried out.

Scott Campbell, associate professor of communication studies and Pohs Professor of Telecommunications, says that understanding this behavior is not just about knowing how much people text—it's about understanding how they process it.

"A texting cue, for instance, could manifest as a , a 'new message' symbol, a peripheral glance at a phone, an internal 'alarm clock,' a specific context or perhaps a mental state," Campbell says. "In the case of more habitual behavior, reacting to these cues becomes automatic to the point that the person may do so without even meaning to do it."

In the study, several hundred responded to a asking about their perceptions and uses of various aspects of technology. They were asked about the level of automaticity and frequency of texting, as well as norms and attitudes toward texting and driving.

The findings show that automatic tendencies are a significant and positive predictor of both sending and reading texts behind the wheel, even when accounting for how much individuals text overall, norms and attitudes.

"Two mobile phone users, then, could use their devices at an equal rate, but differ in the degree to which they perform the behavior automatically," Campbell says.

Bayer says the implications of the study may help provide solutions to texting and driving.

"Campaigns to change attitudes about texting while driving can only do so much if individuals don't realize the level at which they are doing it," Bayer says. "By targeting these automatic mechanisms, we can design specific self-control strategies for drivers."

Despite these findings, the researchers say more work is needed to determine if the results are consistent across age groups rather than young adults.

The findings appear in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Explore further: Report: FBI's anthrax investigation was flawed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

1 in 4 Americans is texting while driving: poll

May 20, 2009

In the United States, where driving while using telephones without hands-free adaptor kits and texting at the wheel are not widely illegal, one in four people confesses to texting and driving, a survey found Wednesday.

Teen-led study highlights dangers of texting and driving

Apr 29, 2012

Some people have questioned whether a ban on texting while driving will actually lead to more crashes because drivers will conceal their cell phones, making it more dangerous to read and type messages. Research led by high ...

New Jersey Lawmakers May Ban Texting While Driving

Mar 27, 2007

New Jersey drivers who insist on sending text messages on their cell phones or personal digital assistants may find themselves on the wrong side of the law if legislators approve a new bill.

Recommended for you

Report: FBI's anthrax investigation was flawed

Dec 19, 2014

The FBI used flawed scientific methods to investigate the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people and sickened 17 others, federal auditors said Friday in a report sure to fuel skepticism over the FBI's ...

Study reveals mature motorists worse at texting and driving

Dec 18, 2014

A Wayne State University interdisciplinary research team in the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences has made a surprising discovery: older, more mature motorists—who typically are better drivers in ...

Napster co-founder to invest in allergy research

Dec 17, 2014

(AP)—Napster co-founder Sean Parker missed most of his final year in high school and has ended up in the emergency room countless times because of his deadly allergy to nuts, shellfish and other foods.

LA mayor plans 7,000 police body cameras in 2015

Dec 16, 2014

Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a plan Tuesday to equip 7,000 Los Angeles police officers with on-body cameras by next summer, making LA's police department the nation's largest law enforcement agency to move ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.