DALLAS — Although people know texting while driving is dangerous behavior, they're too addicted to stop, according to a new study commissioned by AT&T.
The study, conducted by Dr. David Greenfield, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, found that three out of four people surveyed admitted to at least glancing at their phones while behind the wheel.
"We compulsively check our phones because every time we get an update through text, e-mail or social media, we experience an elevation of dopamine, which is a neurochemical in the brain that makes us feel happy," said Greenfield in a statement. "If that desire for a dopamine fix leads us to check our phones while we're driving, a simple text can turn deadly."
According to the study, more than 90 percent of those surveyed know that texting and driving is dangerous, but those who admit they do it anyway find ways to rationalize their behavior. And, said Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction at the university, that is a classic sign of addiction.
The most common rationalization, stated by 30 percent of survey respondents, is that they're easily able to do several things at the same time, like driving and checking their phones.
"However," said Greenfield, "many objective studies show that's not possible."
The study was conducted as part of AT&T's It Can Wait campaign, in which more than 5.5 million people, including a number of celebrities, have pledged not to text while driving. In addition to the pledge, the It Can Wait site contains videos and other useful information about the dangers of distracted driving.
To help drivers control their compulsive behavior, AT&T is making its free DriveMode app available for Apple or Android devices. DriveMode silences incoming text message alerts once a vehicle reaches 15 mph and turns off shortly after it comes to a stop.
When activated, DriveMode automatically responds to incoming messages so senders know the recipient is driving. It also sends a message to parents of young drivers if the app is turned off.
AT&T says there have been more than 1.8 million downloads of the app so far.
Edmunds says: Most people know texting while driving is dangerous, but this study helps explain why so many do it anyway.