Tiny Irrationalities That Add Up: Texting While Driving

November 5, 2009 BY danariely

Sad story out in the New York Times describing growing concerns about texting while driving. In Britain, a woman was sentenced to a 21-month sentence after it was found that she had been texting while driving, which resulted in the death of a 24-year old design student. In many ways, texting while driving illustrates a case in which tiny, individual irrational decisions can accumulate and cause widespread suffering, not only for the individuals who are texting, but their unsuspecting victims. Unlike cases of drunk driving, in which the driver’s decision making abilities are impaired, drivers who text are at their full wits to wait until they’ve pulled over to check their texts, and yet in the process they routinely underestimate the risk they impose to themselves and others.

Aside from being another example of a common irrational behavior (and who among us did not text or checked their email while driving), this leads me to wonder, what is the best way to solve this problem? While presently the issue is being hotly debated here in the US on a state-by-state basis, England has taken a tough national stance on texting while driving, which includes hefty minimum point penalties on the offending party’s license, and fines upward of 60P. If you watch the video in the linked article, you’ll also find a very graphic video depicting the carnage of a texting accident–shocking and informative public service announcements are yet another option. Alternatively, we can hope that cell phone companies are continuing to explore voice activation technologies that can read text messages aloud and also transcribe them from voice — thereby by-passing the problem altogether.

We have lots of irrational problems to deal with, and the realization that tiny, seemingly innocent little ones, like 10-second text messages, can cause so much damage should make us look around for more such problems.  perhaps ones that are not as obvious (think health care), but are potentially just as damaging.

Irrationally yours