A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has shed new light on why so many Americans continue to use their phones behind the wheel, despite knowing the dangers of distracted driving. The survey found that the issue is more complex than policymakers have assumed, and until we dive deep into the psychology of distracted motorists, we’ll struggle to convince them to stop or win support for systemic solutions.
The study surveyed more than 2,000 U.S. drivers who own cell phones and found that many drivers understand the risks of distracted driving, but struggle to put their phones down due to perceived “barriers” like GPS navigation and family-related calls or texts. The study also found that many drivers care about the safety of others on the road, but struggle to change their behavior.
The researchers suggest that until regulators can mandate automakers, cell phone carriers, and employers of people who drive for a living restrict on-board devices to hands-free and voice-activated modes only, policymakers should pursue more pragmatic, short-term solutions like encouraging open dialogue about the dangers of distracted driving, especially with children and young drivers.
The study also found that the most effective deterrent to distracted driving is a personal reminder from someone the driver cares about. As such, policymakers should direct their educational campaigns to motorists’ passengers to encourage them to speak up about the dangers of distracted driving.
Overall, the study’s findings suggest that understanding the psychology of distracted motorists is crucial to addressing the problem of distracted driving, and that policymakers must pursue solutions that address the many factors that underlie this dangerous behavior.