It might seem obvious for drivers in Washington State and across the nation to pay strict attention to the road and avoid behaviors that might lead to them being a distracted driver and causing an accident. However, the number of people who are texting and driving and committing other behaviors that involve smartphones and other devices is increasing. Invariably, this leads to the growing statistics of people who are injured or killed in an auto accident. It is beneficial to know why people look away from the road and at their devices when driving. Researchers are seeking to determine the cause that sparks the potentially damaging effect.

A psychologist who has studied distracted driving states that chemicals in the brain cause people to look at their phones even if they know they should not. Smartphone indicators that they have received a message is perceived as a reward. Another researcher says that the chemical dopamine is a cause of this activity. Dopamine is similarly stimulated in other pleasurable or exciting activities. Those who have a tendency toward addictive behaviors are more likely to pick up their phone when they receive a notification or a call, whether they are driving or not.

One part of the brain is responsible for making decisions and multitasking. Those who are using their smartphones or other devices and are driving are using the same area of the brain for both activities. Doing two things at once can cause the wires to cross and end with dangerous distractions. Drivers who remove their eyes from the road for four seconds are significantly more prone to having a crash. It takes an average of four seconds to read a text message. Other activities behind the wheel, such as changing the radio station or altering the interior climate takes an average of two seconds. Using a GPS can take up to six minutes.

Simple distractions that involve cognitive factors can be as dangerous as physical distractions. This means sending a text by voice or speaking on a hands-free device can be risky even if those taking part in these behaviors think they are acting responsibly and safely. Those who are injured in an auto accident need to be aware of the cause if they are considering a legal filing. A crash reconstruction and investigation can help toward that end. Speaking to an attorney who has experience in claims after a car accident may also provide the individual with information about options.

Source: yakimaherald.com, “Why drivers use their phones: A cognitive expert weighs in,” Jessica Lee, Feb. 26, 2017