Do Brain Chemicals Cause Distracted Driving?
As the number of deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving soared in recent years, experts sought a cause of the epidemic. A new study claims brain chemicals cause distracted driving.
Despite all of the publicity related to using smartphones at the wheel and a raft of tougher anti-distracted driving laws, distracted drivers remain stubborn.
These days, we see more and more evidence of distracted driving. Often a driver who is checking a phone veers across the highway.
A considerable body of research shows something as simple as taking your eyes off the road for a few seconds can be as dangerous as driving drunk.
Dr. David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, says drivers may be predisposed to be inattentive and brain chemicals cause distracted driving.
Strayer, the Detroit News reports, claims dopaminergic neurotransmitters cause people to drive distracted. These are chemicals in our brains that signal other parts of the brain to act. Dopamine is a seeking chemical. When we get an answer, we receive a small high.
“When the phone goes off, people feel compelled to look at that phone. They feel compelled because it’s actually a part of their social network that’s reaching out to them. It’s triggering some of the dopaminergic neurotransmitter systems that are associated with reward.”
Dr. Barbara Jennings, of Sandia National Laboratories, said when we seek something and then find it, and we get a dopamine release. We are then likely to see something else to get another dopamine release.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that sends signals in the brain that a reward was received. This research is alarming because it may suggest it’s more difficult to tackle distracted driving than we may believe.
Once drivers have taken their eyes off the road for a full four seconds, the odds of crashing increase dramatically.
Some states are taking sweeping measures to tackle distracted driving. For example, in Oregon, the use of any hand-held phone recently became an offense even when drivers are making a call rather than texting or checking social media.
The University of Utah academic is not the first expert to argue brain chemicals cause distracted driving.
A recent article on CNN quoted David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. He warned smartphones are addictive and the pings inherent in text messages or social media updates stimulate our brains.
The CNN article cited the case of Laura Maurer, a mother from Iowa. Maurer pulled over to text a client and then got back on the road. She then heard a ping alerting her to an incoming text. She tried to ignore it, but ultimately couldn’t resist it. She looked at her phone and tragically ended up killing a 75-year-old farmer and grandfather on a tractor.
There is clear evidence that cell phone use is hazardous for drivers. Much of this evidence suggests talking is almost as distracting as texting. The U.S. National Highway Safety Administration reported the deaths of 3,477 people and injuries to 391,000 in 2015 in crashes caused by drivers engaged in cell phone conversations, texting, and other distractions.