We Know Distracted Driving is Dangerous, Why Do We Do It?

Photo of Dr. Paul Atchley, PhDDr. Paul Atchley, PhD. and Associate Dean for the College of Online and Professional Education at the University of Kansas has been conducting research and speaking out to educate about the dangers of distracted driving. As eDriving’s award-winning Scientific Advisor, Dr. Atchley seeks to understand exactly what our brains do when we drive distracted. He has been studying attention to perception for over 25 years and tells us “the best ability our brain has is the ability to deceive ourselves.”

So why do we drive distracted? “The driver is the weak link in traffic safety,” states Dr. Atchley, “Our brain fools us into thinking we have more capacity then we actually do.” In other words, when we text and drive or look away to dig in your purse or backpack for something, you think you have the capacity to pay attention to both your driving and the other task at hand, while the reality is that our brains are not capable of doing both. SMART Driver Graphic

People participate in deadly behaviors knowingly. We know our reaction time is not the same if we are texting and driving than if we just concentrated our focus on one thing—driving. Despite the fact that research tells us these are things we should not be doing while driving, people continue to participate in these deadly behaviors. Knowing the dangers of what can happen and knowing what you are doing is wrong does not necessarily change your behavior.

We know its dangerous to text and drive. We hear about it in the news, we see people (including ourselves) texting while driving, we see crashes happen on our roadways. We know it is dangerous but yet do it anyway. Dr. Atchley further explains “There is a disconnect between what people believe to be true and what they actually do. When we do something that we know is unsafe, we then change our attitudes. This is called cognitive dissonance.” Essentially when people have a disconnect between their actions and their beliefs, they will change their attitudes to justify what it is that they are doing at the time, no matter how wrong the action is. The dangers they know exist become irrelevant and the task at hand more important than the safety of themselves and others.

It’s time to consciously shift these types of behaviors and attitudes. Crashes due to distracted driving are preventable. People CAN choose to act responsibly. Attitudes have changed toward wearing seat belts and drinking and driving due to education, community outreach, and enforcement which have all helped the general public change their behaviors and therefore, change the outcomes of safety while driving.

The weak link in traffic safety is the drivers. We need to take action by continuing to advocate against distracted driving. Educate the public, pass laws that demand stiffer punishments for failing to drive responsibly. It is through these actions that we can force the hand of change.

About Dr. Atchley: Dr. Paul Atchley, PhD. received his doctorate from the University of California, Riverside, and completed postdoctoral training at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois. He has been teaching in the online environment for a decade and has been part of efforts at KU to use online education to improve student success. Dr. Atchley has published numerous peer-reviewed articles and chapters on issues of vision and attention and their relationship to driving. He has received numerous awards for his research, teaching, and student advising.

Click here for more information about Dr. Atchley’s research and to see the full video.