Preventing Distracted Driving is Scientifically Difficult

preventing distracted driving

No matter how many educational campaigns we see, preventing distracted driving is extremely difficult. It was assumed that avoiding your phone while driving was simply a matter of will, but new research from the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction shows a much more scientifically rooted cause.

Pavlov’s Dog

Picture this: Your driving down the highway when a ding goes off on the phone sitting beside you. At first you ignore the ring but another alert chimes over the speakers followed by a buzz. I wonder who that could be, you muse. A new job offer? A call from last nights wonderful date. Without thinking twice you reach for the phone and answer the text message, which of course is your mother just texting to say hi. Now maybe this scenario wasn’t specific to you but the principle still holds true. We want to respond immediately to that chime, alert, buzz, ring, or anything which may be news for us. It is that human nature or perhaps animal nature that makes preventing distracted driving so difficult.

Preventing Distracted Driving: Science Edition

So we all know texting while driving is a really bad idea but why do we do it? In order to truly answer that question we must first open our anatomy books and take a look into the human brain; specifically the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Why is this important you may ask? This central part of the brain houses major nerve cell bodies which allows a wide pathway for manufacturing and injecting the chemical dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which when released sends signals to other cells. One such dopamine pathway  is the primary reward motivated behavior section and when dopamine floods that system your brain records the feeling of pleasure. When we use our smartphones and an auditory alert is generated we get a small hit of dopamine. Our brain has literally become wired to derive pleasure from social alerts, text messages, and emails in such a way that we feel the compulsory need to pick up our phones despite the danger around us. In a recent CNN article discussing the impulses of our brain they summarized it this way: “When our brains are in that elevated dopamine state caused by the expectation of a text or status update, the activated brain reward center does something else. It shuts down access to another part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, where most of our judgment and reasoning occurs”.

The Ramifications

So what does that mean for us? The reality of the matter seems to point out that preventing distracted driving is more then just an educational or good character matter. If you are managing a commercial fleet just talking about preventing distracted driving may not be enough. Because of the way we are hardwired, we may actually need technology which doesn’t respond to dopamine to keep us from endangering ourselves and the world around us. Often times I tell myself I will not eat reach for the potato chips but if the bag is near me no matter what my logical health oriented side says, it will get trumped by the reward centers that love the taste of salt.

There is an answer to preventing distracted driving and beating the dopamine rush. FleetMode is an application based product which automatically silences all alerts when the vehicle is in motion and prevents drivers from accessing their keyboards. It may seem a little extreme but potato chip calories are not on the line; real lives and millions of dollars in liability are. Check out some of our other articles where we discussed some of the commercial costs of distracted driving or check out to see our entire solution. Preventing distracted driving once and for all is our goal.