Leading Cause Of Fatal Car Accidents: Texting And Driving

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One text is all it takes to create preventable lifelong consequences. Many of us were instilled with this message as teenagers, yet we continue to text and drive. Despite extensive efforts by public health officials and transportation researchers to prevent distracted driving through fear appeals and texting bans, the behavior continuously prevails as the leading cause of fatal car accidents with no prospect of decreasing any time soon. New efforts to prevent distracted driving fail to recognize the underlying reason why an individual can text and drive despite being aware of the deleterious risks. If we want to see a reform in texting and driving, we must address the root source of this behavior: the behavioral mechanisms that underlie the perseverance to text and drive.

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As online messaging and texting have become the new forms of communication, it inevitably continues on the road, in particular for novice young drivers. Car accidents are the leading cause of death for drivers ages 15 to 20 and despite teen drivers only composing 12.2% of licensed drivers, they made up 19.5% of all 2016 fatal crashes. Recently, there has been a rise in mobile apps that block notifications while driving and hands-free options. However, research has failed to show sufficient efficacy of mobile apps and has even discovered that hands-free texting impairs a driver’s performance just as handheld texting does. As the surge of technological advancements and legal approaches to prevent distracted driving continues, drivers instead get more skilled at finessing these restrictions. Rather than relying on technology to halt consistent human behavior, a solution can be found when we consider the underlying reason why many of us persist in text and driving despite acknowledging the fatal consequences.

Much of human behavior can be traced back to our primitive purposes as social beings. We thrive on social interactions and as texting has become a main form of communication, it is apparent why drivers engage in this high-risk behavior. Research has shown that young adults feel significant anxiety when they are apart from their phones, as texting is essential in maintaining their relationships. Relationships are built on shared interests and beliefs and peers within the same social circle have a significant influence in shaping each other’s behavior. A study found that young drivers who self-reported that they text and drive were more likely to believe that their peers also text and drive. Therefore, many drivers who text and drive are further enabled by the perception that their peers also do the same. Fear campaigns, mobile apps, and legal restrictions are not the ultimate influences that will stop young drivers from texting and driving but instead it is their peers.

Similar to breaking the bystander effect, if one peer vocalizes their discontent with texting and driving, their peers will be significantly likely to follow. Many young drivers are aware of the dangers of texting while driving, and if one of their peers can state this it reaffirms their inner voices. Being an effective role model is powerful. As social beings, the threat of social exclusion from our peers and being ostracized for our actions can be effective in stopping behavior such as texting and driving. I have experienced firsthand how influential a friend’s criticisms can be. When I was a college freshman, I got into a car accident because I was texting. Yet, I continued to do so until one of my friends saw me texting and driving and confronted me on how disappointed she was. I am now proud to say I do not text and drive, but I am even more proud to say I have convinced many of my other friends to do the same. As a generation that grew up on online messaging and texting, I have witnessed many of my friends engage in dangerous driving behaviors. However, one quick confrontation can change their entire perspectives. Within my friend group, we all have kept each other accountable for our dangerous driving habits and our voices eventually become internalized when we drive. But it was not a car accident, laws, or apps that stopped us from texting and driving, it was our peers. To promote a change, we must be the change. Something as simple as telling the people you care for to stop texting and driving can be the solution and this belief can spread within your friend circles to others, but it begins with one person speaking up.

29 April 2022

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