Texting-While-Driving Study Likens Phone Use to Drug Addiction


When Huey Lewis sang “I Want a New Drug” back in the ’80s, he could not have foreseen that one day that newfangled pharmaceutical wouldn’t come in pill form but as a phone — and that it would be one of the more dangerous drugs on the market. The active substance in this new “drug” is happiness-enhancing dopamine, and according to a study commissioned by communications giant AT&T, the “high” you get from using your mobile device is akin to being addicted.

Related: Texting-While-Driving Consequences Vary By State

The study, conducted by the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in cooperation with the “Texting & Driving … It Can Wait” campaign, found that more and more people are demonstrating compulsive behavior — dubbed “cell-phone addiction” — with three-quarters of people admitting to at least glancing at their phones while behind the wheel. That’s despite 90 percent of people reporting that they know better.

“We compulsively check our phones because every time we get an update through text, email or social media, we experience an elevation of dopamine, which is a neurochemical in the brain that makes us feel happy,” Dr. David Greenfield, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and founder of the Internet and Technology Addiction, said in a statement. “If that desire for a dopamine fix leads us to check our phones while we’re driving, a simple text can turn deadly.”

There is good news, however. According to the research, phone addicts can successfully rehab themselves. “Those who are most likely to text and drive are also the most likely to take steps to stop,” AT&T said in a statement. “And 82 percent of people who take action to stop texting and driving feel good about themselves.”

To help people stop this dangerous behavior, AT&T is promoting its free DriveMode iPhone app, which activates automatically at 15 mph, silences text-message alerts and automatically responds to incoming messages letting the sender know the user is driving; it also notifies parents if the app has been shut off.

Helder Almeida/iStock/Thinkstock

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