Are thrill seekers more likely to text and drive?
A new study from the University of Toronto’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering probes the murky depths of the distracted driver’s brain to find out why people talk and text behind the wheel, and it turns out that personality traits like impulsiveness along with attitudes towards risk -taking play a dominant role in determining whether or not a person talks, texts or engages with in-vehicle technologies while driving.
In fact, the research shows that these traits will decide driving behaviour even when a person has family and friends strongly advising against distracted driving. March is distracted driving month across Canada, where federal and provincial authorities are underlining the dangers of bad driving behaviour at a time when the number of deaths due to distracted driving has risen above those caused by other factors such as speeding, improper (or lack of) seatbelt use and alcohol. The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) reports that drivers are 23 times more likely to get in an accident while texting and four times more likely while talking on the phone.
And yet these glaring statistics do not seem to be curbing behaviour. In an interview with the CBC, Robyn Robertson, CEO of Traffic Injury Research Foundation, an Ottawa-based non-profit providing research and advocacy on traffic safety, says, “Anecdotally from police, we’re seeing that there does seem to be that persistence in people wanting to use their phones while they’re driving, or engage in distracting behaviours.”
Robertson believes that the reason why people drive distracted in spite of all the messaging is that people don’t fully grasp the danger. “I think they know that it’s bad but they also don’t appreciate the risks,” says Robertson, “They think that I’ll see it, I’ll be able to respond. And it’s not until you can’t respond and you don’t see it that you really appreciate what the risks are.”
According to the U of T study, however, the problem goes beyond a lack of understanding and hinges on key features of personality and attitudes towards risk-taking. The study analyzed 525 responses to an online driver distraction survey conducted in the United States and Canada with the aim of uncovering the social and psychological factors that motivate distracted driving behaviour.
It found that personality is the most important determinant in whether one drives while distracted -specifically, the study concluded that people who had sensation-seeking tendencies, people identified as impulsive and adventure-seeking and those who perceived little risk involved in talking or texting while driving were all more likely to report distracted driving behaviour.
“It does appear that particularly those who seek more sensation and are more venturesome may intentionally pursue stimulation that cell phones and in-vehicle technologies would provide them with while driving,” say the study’s authors.
Further, the researchers identified a correlation between respondents who engaged in distracted driving behaviours and those who reported receiving strong messaging against distracted driving from friends and family -an unexpected result since one might hazard that words from loved ones would have a positive effect on driving behaviour.
A possible explanation for this result, according to the researchers, is that drivers who exhibit higher levels of distracted driving behaviour may be the ones who are receiving a lot of cautionary messaging from friends and family (those who perhaps have witnessed the behaviour first hand) while people who do not drive while distracted might not receive the same (or as much) warning from their loved ones.
In either case, it seems that the risk-takers and thrill seekers are the ones who are reaching for their phones in the car.