Fight the Urge to Text At the Wheel

Texting while driving is a habit among college students

(RxWiki News) Everyone's done it. Red lights pretty much mean a quick sneaky peak at the cell phone. Maybe even shoot a text off real quick; it's always very tempting.

Regardless of the cause, texting while driving is done out of habit, a new study has found.

"Stop texting at the wheel."

The study, led by Joseph Bayer, a doctoral student in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan, looks at what role unconscious thought plays in texting and driving and how habit carries out the texting urge.

Researchers surveyed 441 college students on their use of and views on mobile communication, including how often and how automatic it felt to text.

Participants were also asked about their attitudes toward texting and driving, as what they felt was normal.

When people check their phones without thinking, it's an automatic behavior, the researchers say.

"In other words, some individuals automatically feel compelled to check for, read and respond to new messages, and may not even realize they have done so while driving until after the fact," Bayer said in a press release.

People could be cued to text with a vibration of the phone, a symbol for 'new message,' some internal 'alarm clock,' or some other glance at the phone or mental state, according to Scott Campbell, an associate professor of communication studies at U-M and co-author of the study.

"In the case of more habitual behavior, reacting to these cues becomes automatic to the point that the person may do so without even meaning to do it," Dr. Campbell said in a press release.

Researchers also found that automatic tendencies significantly predict both sending and reading texts behind the wheel.

This also took into account how much individuals text overall and their norms and attitudes.

"Two mobile phone users, then, could use their devices at an equal rate, but differ in the degree to which they perform the behavior automatically," Campbell said.

The authors note several limitations with the study, including that they're not considering what causes the habitual behavior with texting.

Also their findings may not represent what the population at large actually does.

Bayer says that if individuals across the country don't realize how much they're texting at the wheel, campaigns to change attitudes can only do so much.

"By targeting these automatic mechanisms, we can design specific self-control strategies for drivers," he said.

The study was available online July 12 in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Review Date: 
September 28, 2012