Can You Ignore the Ping?

Drivers Are Being Programmed to Respond to the Ping

Most motorists will admit that texting while driving, checking their social status or even playing Pokemon Go while driving is not safe yet drivers continue to engage in the behaviour, knowing the consequences. So why do driver feel the need to check their phones when they hear a ping? It’s because we are addicted!

Smartphones and their pings have become addictive to their users. Our brains have become accustomed to hearing a ping and our brain instinctively responds. The reason motorists respond to the ping is that they feel the compulsion to do so. Our brains have become programmed without us being aware of it. When the ping is heard, be it from a text, a missed call or a recent social update response, our brains receive a surge of dopamine, a chemical associated with arousal, energizing our brain activity. The feeling of satisfaction is further increased by our brain’s response – who is texting me, who is tagging me in social media and who just called me. Each of these actions result in a further burst of dopamine to the brain.

Our Brains May Be Encouraging Drivers to be Distracted

When our brains receive the elevated dopamine resulting from the reward of a ping, the brain can shut down the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls reasoning and judgement. In doing so, we have less access to the part of the brain that will tell us that the text, call or social status update is not as important as focussing on driving.

Social pressures also contribute to our need to answer those pings. We are compelled to respond to an email from a business associate, check a test from our children or friends and call back someone who we think is important. A ping is a powerful force that comes with all kinds of complications. Drivers are led into a false sense of security. We can rationalize the idea that nothing “bad” happened when we responded to the text so why should we not do it again.

Drivers are also lured into the false sense of being able to multi-task while driving. We are continuously being forced to stretch our time and in doing so feel that the car is a good place to do it. The vehicle has become a social venue, a restaurant, a mobile office and also a childcare facility. Being able to juggle all these parameters is simply not possible, there is no such thing as multitasking. Drivers and non-drivers can only complete one task at a time. If we attempt to do more than one thing at a time, one of the tasks will not receive the full attention and will suffer.

Drivers are encouraged by Young Drivers of Canada to avoid the dopamine stimulate by turning off their phones while driving. Letting your social sphere know that you are driving and will not respond to texts, emails, calls or social updates will help to alleviate the social pressure. Remember, driving is a one task function!