Amanda Ripley

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When Truckers Text

28th Jul 2009 posted in Disaster Behavior

My new hero Matt Richtel scared the crap out of me again today. In a front-page NY Times story on texting-while-driving, he describes a new study showing that when truck drivers text, they are 23 times more likely to get in an accident. Let me say that again. Not twice as likely. 23 times as likely. In other words, about the same as if you repeatedly blacked out for 5-second intervals at high speeds—since that is essentially what happens when we read or write text messages.

I have studied the brain for a while now, and I know that it is not capable of multi-tasking in this way. I also know that it is very bad at resisting the urge to peek at a message. For many people, reading or sending a text or email provides a sort of dopamine boost that is addictive. By now, if you don’t know someone who is addicted to checking his or her Blackberry, you must not have many friends.

William Saletan describes the problem well:

Millions of people move among us in this half-absent state. Mentally, they’re living in another world. It’s like the Rapture, except that they’ve left their bodies behind.

So I am more convinced than ever that we will need to find a way make it impossible (or at least very hard) to read or write texts or email while driving. I wonder which state or country will be the first to make this happen? And how many more people will have to die beforehand?