Study Finds Drivers Unaware of Their Texting Habits

October 15, 2012

Texting while driving is considered a serious public safety concern, but a new University of Michigan study suggests that drivers might not be aware of their actions.

U-M researchers found that texting while driving is predicted by a person’s level of “habit” — more so than how much someone texts.

When people check their cell phones without thinking about it, the habit represents a type of automatic behavior, or automaticity, the researchers said. Automaticity, which was the key variable in the study, is triggered by situational cues and lacks control, awareness, intention and attention.

“In other words, some individuals automatically feel compelled to check for, read and respond to new messages, and may not even realize they have done so while driving until after the fact,” says Joseph Bayer, a doctoral student in the Department of Communication Studies and the study’s lead author.

This first-of-its-kind study, which identifies the role of unconscious thought processes in texting and driving, is different from other research that has focused on the effects of this behavior. Thus, the current study investigates the role of habit in texting while driving, with a focus on how (rather than how much) the behavior is carried out.

The findings appear in the Journal Computers in Human Behavior.

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