Here’s a scary statistic: At any moment during the day, some 660,000 Americans are fiddling with their cell phone or other electronic device while driving.
All of them believe, of course, that somehow — against all the scientific evidence to the contrary — they are different from everybody else. They believe that using electronic devices while driving — whether it be talking on the phone or texting or searching the Internet for the nearest restaurant — is dangerous for everyone but themselves.
That certainly seems to have been the mentality of the 24-year-old motorist from Minnetonka who was charged last week in Hennepin County District court with criminal vehicular operation of a vehicle. While driving in her neighborhood last June, she hit and seriously injured a 57-year-old woman who was walking in a crosswalk.
Although the young woman reportedly lied about it at first, a search of her cell phone revealed that she had been texting at the time of the accident.
The young woman’s indictment sent me back to a study that crossed my desk earlier this month. For the study, two marketing professors, Garold Lantz and Sandra Loeb, of King’s College in Wilkes Barre, Pa., had surveyed 120 college students (57 percent male, 43 percent female) to determine 1) how often young people text while driving and 2) what those young people thought about the practice.
The researchers particularly wanted to see if certain personality traits, such as “impulsiveness” and a “need to be connected,” are more common among people who text while driving than among those who don’t.
One finding didn’t surprise the researchers: 82 percent of the survey’s respondents admitted to texting while driving at least some of the time.
Other findings, though, did surprised them a bit.
“We expected that people who take driving safety most seriously would be the people who text the least while driving,” they write. “However, we found that everybody agreed with questions about driving safety regardless of their texting behaviour.”
In other words, they explained, “people do not make a connection between their own behaviour and the behaviour they expect from other people. Many people text while driving (and recognize it as a dangerous activity) even though they claim that ‘People have a duty to drive as safely as they can.’”
That attitude was particularly strong among the young men who were surveyed. While the young women showed more “text impulsiveness” and reported sending, on average, 101 texts per day compared to 70 for the young men, the women were less likely to text while driving.
The women were also more likely to recognize the dangers of texting while driving. And they had a more negative attitude toward those who engaged in the activity.
The young men, on the other hand, “had a higher belief in their own ability to text while driving compared to other people,” the researchers write.
That’s because the men self-rated themselves as better drivers. They also were less likely to believe that texting while driving was dangerous.
Still, the study found that the young women as well as the young men texted while driving all too frequently.
Drivers delude themselves
The young men’s belief in their superior ability to drive while texting is a delusion, of course. Research has repeatedly shown that people (of any age, by the way) who believe they are great at multitasking are simply unaware of the information they’re missing.
One study found, for example, that when people were texting, they looked away from the road a staggering 400 percent more often than those driving with no distractions. (For safety’s sake, the study was done using driving simulators.)
The texting drivers also wandered in their lanes more and missed more exits. And the distances they kept between their vehicles and the ones around them varied more widely.
Some research suggests that texting while driving is a dangerous as driving drunk.
“As individuals tend not to believe it is themselves who are at risk from this dangerous behaviour, more research should be conducted to determine what means are most effective in getting this message across to different groups of people,” Lantz and Loeb conclude.
And we don’t have any time to waste. In 2011, the most recent year for which there are statistics, 387,000 Americans were injured in crashes involving distracted drivers. And 3,331 individuals died.
As electronic devices become more ubiquitous in cars, those numbers are expected, tragically, to climb.
It’s time all of us took the pledge to not text or talk on the phone while driving. And, yes, you need to do it even if you think you’re a terrific driver with exceptional multitasking skills.
The study by Lantz and Loeb was published in the International Journal of Sustainable Strategic Management.