Why Do Smart People Do Not So Smart Things?

Distracted driving causes an astounding number of accidents, injuries and deaths and yet despite the recognized dangers of doing so, many of us continue to drive distracted. The question is, why?

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Courtesy of UlMi/Shutterstock
Courtesy of UlMi/Shutterstock

Distracted driving is a real problem with a measurable cost in the form of accidents, injuries and deaths. In fact, every year there are over 1.5 million accidents, 500,000 injuries and nearly 4,000 deaths from phone-based distracted driving. Unfortunately, with an increasing number of drivers and distractions, the problem is only getting worse. 

Arianna Huffington’s recent Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Distracted story was a welcome reminder of the perils of this increasingly dangerous behavior.  

As the founder of This App Saves Lives, a mobile app that rewards drivers who choose not to engage in phone-based distracted driving, I’ve studied this behavior closely. Having been injured and nearly killed by a distracted driver, this is also a theme near and dear to my heart. 

In studying the subject, I’ve held countless discussions with students, educators, businesses, leaders and everyone in between and in all but several, I’ve received overwhelming acknowledgement of the lunacy of texting while driving. As Arianna put it best, taking your eyes off of the road at 55mph is the equivalent of driving an entire football field completely blind. 

And yet despite our collective acknowledgement of the dangers, many of us continue to engage in such risky behavior. 

I find myself asking, “why?” 

While no large scale study has been conducted into the psychology behind this increasingly addictive and pervasive behavior, one might draw parallels from other studies of human psychology. 

Most drivers rate themselves better than average: In a classic study, researchers asked individuals to rate their own driving competency. The results were strikingly revealing: 93% of Americans reported that they were better than average. 

In another study, researchers found that only 2% of high school students reported that they possess below average leadership ability. 

Study after study reveals the tendency of individuals to overestimate their own abilities, commonly referred to as the Lake Wobegon Effect. 

Obviously, not everyone can be above average. In the case of driving aptitude, exactly half of all individuals must be in the bottom half and yet 93% tout their above average abilities. 

Could this be what’s going on with driver attitudes towards distracted driving? 

According to one Harris Poll study, 91% of drivers acknowledge the dangers of distracted driving and yet 50% of adults admit to regularly texting, browsing the web, checking emails and even watching videos (yikes!) while driving. 

With 91% of us acknowledging the risks of distracted driving, nearly all of us are aligned on the dangers and yet completely misaligned in the manner in which behave behind the wheel.

Unfortunately, “do as I say, not as I do” no longer suffices. Ten people die every single day from distracted driving. As far as I’m concerned, that’s ten people too many. 

We all have the power to save lives each time we get behind the wheel. Moreover, we can be an example for today’s youth who sadly represent the highest proportion of distracted driving-related fatalities. So the next time you get the urge to pick up your phone while driving, reconsider. There’s a world of people counting on you to make the smart decision.  

Share your thoughts. Why do you think we acknowledge the risks of distracted driving and yet resist changing our behavior?

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