Academic journal article The Psychological Record

A Behavioral Economic Analysis of Demand for Texting While Driving

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

A Behavioral Economic Analysis of Demand for Texting While Driving

Article excerpt

Various statistics indicate that distracted driving is a major public health issue. In 2015 in the United States, for example, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes caused by distracted driving (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA], 2017a). Even worse, these numbers are believed to be underreported due to inherent difficulties in identifying the exact cause of motor vehicle crashes when mobile phone use was involved (National Safety Council [NSC], 2013). According to the NSC's estimate, 341,000 to 910,000 motor vehicle crashes in 2013 in the United States are likely to be attributable to texting while driving alone (NSC, 2015). Despite its dangers, 31.4% and 40.2% of drivers in the United States reported that they have sent and read a text message while driving in the past 30 days (AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 2017).

To date, legislation to prohibit all drivers from texting while driving has been adopted in 47 states and the District of Columbia (Governors Highway Safety Association, 2018); however, the evidence of the effectiveness of these laws in reducing texting while driving is somewhat mixed (see Delgado, Wanner, & McDonald, 2016, for review). Educational campaigns, such as U Drive. U Text. U Pay. (NHTSA, 2017b), are other strategies that have been implemented to reduce texting while driving (see Cismaru & Nimegeers, 2017, for review). Despite the popularity of such campaigns in the media, there is no direct evidence that supports the effectiveness of these campaigns in reducing texting while driving (Delgado et al., 2016).

In efforts to identify other approaches, it is important to note a hallmark of this problem--that drivers send and read text messages while driving despite being aware of its danger (Atchley, Atwood, & Boulton, 2011). The impulsive nature of texting while driving is associated with the behavioral economic principle delay discounting, which refers to the process by which the decision maker subjectively devalues future events (Madden & Bickel, 2010). From a delay-discounting perspective, texting while driving can be conceptualized as an impulsive choice for an immediate reinforcer (i.e., immediate social interaction obtained while driving) conjoined with the increased (1) probability of a punisher (i.e., a greater chance of a motor vehicle crash) over a self-controlled choice for a delayed reinforcer conjoined with no probability of that punisher (i.e., delayed social interaction obtained when not driving without a chance of a motor vehicle crash). This delay discounting conceptualization of texting while driving has been empirically supported in previous studies (Hayashi, Fessler, Friedel, Foreman, & Wirth, 2018; Hayashi, Miller, Foreman, & Wirth, 2016; Hayashi, Russo, & Wirth, 2015).

When it comes to impulsive decision making, delay discounting is not the only process involved. In substance use disorders, for example, the reinforcer-pathology model (Bickel, Jarmolowicz, Mueller, & Gatchalian, 2011) posits that substance abuse is a function of persistent high valuation of a drug as a reinforcer (as assessed by demand analysis) as well as excessive preference for receiving the reinforcer in the short term (as assessed by delay discounting). Substantial empirical evidence suggests that these two factors (a) are closely related to suboptimal choice patterns associated with substance abuse, (b) are predictive of the outcomes of the interventions, and (c) can be the direct target of interventions in clinical settings (Bickel, Johnson, Koffarnus, MacKillop, & Murphy, 2014). Whether or not texting while driving can be regarded a form of behavioral addiction is debatable (Kardefelt-Winther et al., 2017) and it is beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, the similarity between texting while driving and other addictive and impulsive behaviors would suggest that the reinforcer-pathology model is potentially useful for texting while driving. …

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