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Is distracted driving an addiction?

In Ohio, it’s against the law to text and drive; in many other states, it’s against the law to even use a handheld phone while driving. The laws prohibit these distracting behaviors because they put people in danger.

Unfortunately, millions of people still get distracted by their phones behind the wheel. They watch movies on their phones, check email, browse Facebook and post pictures on Instagram. People do this despite the well-known risks of such behaviors. Why?

Some parties believe it’s because we are addicted to our phones.

A scientific explanation

As one psychologist explains in this CNN article, the pings and notifications we receive on our phones can trigger a boost of dopamine and activate the reward center of our brain. We expect a reward upon hearing a ping or alert, and even the expectation of a reward can give us pleasurable feelings.

At the same time, that response also inhibits access to the reasoning and decision-making part of our brain. So not only do people feel excited about the pings on their phones, they also can be more likely to seek that reward even if doing so is dangerous.

Because of this response, some people argue that we are addicted to our phones.

Combating these responses

Because the physical response to distractions like our phones are so powerful, it may not be realistic to think that avoiding distraction is as easy as ignoring your phone when it’s right beside you.

Instead, drivers who truly want to stay focused and safe behind the wheel should turn off their phone, move it to the back seat or install an app that delays the receipt of messages until a person is done driving. Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to do this.

Even if a person gets a biologically pleasant response with using a phone while driving, he or she can and should be held responsible when this action causes damage and injuries to others. Just as a drunk or drugged driver can be held accountable for an accident, so too can a distracted driver. Under these circumstances, talking to an attorney about the legal options can be crucial.