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: Non-emergency lines still need a back up plan in case of another meltdown

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

E-Voting: Risky technology or great improvement?

2 hours ago

On this forthcoming weekend the Australian state election takes place, and in Victoria State they will be using a new e-voting system to improve secrecy, reliability and user-friendliness. But how secure are such systems? ...

Namibia prepares for Africa's first e-vote

Nov 26, 2014

Namibia will vote in Africa's first electronic ballot Friday, a general election that will usher in a new president and quotas to put more women in government.

US agency threatens to act against air bag maker

Nov 26, 2014

A dispute between U.S. safety regulators and air bag maker Takata Corp. escalated Wednesday when the government threatened fines and legal action unless the company admits that driver's air bag inflators ...

Japan orders air bag maker to conduct probe

Nov 21, 2014

Japan's transport ministry said Friday it has ordered air bag maker Takata to conduct an internal investigation after cases of its air bags exploding triggered safety concerns in the United States and other countries.

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.