USF researcher examines why people text and drive - WFLA News Channel 8

USF researcher examines why people text and drive

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A researcher at the University of South Florida believes it's going to take more than a ban on texting behind the wheel to actually keep people from doing it.

"The more research I started doing, the more I realized how widespread this problem is," said Dr. Moez Limayem, who is now the Dean of USF's College of Business.

His research started a few years ago after a colleague at a university in Switzerland died while texting and driving.

"It was a shock for me," Limayem said. "I owed it to my friend to understand this phenomenon and find better solutions."

He said his studies of states and countries that have banned texting behind the wheel has revealed something interesting: It doesn't always work.

"In many of these states and many of these countries - actually the number of accidents increased," he said. "What a lot of people do is - to escape the police seeing them ... is just try to hide it underneath the steering wheel and that puts them in even more uncomfortable and unsafe positions."

He said some might see texting and driving as an addiction and the way society has traditionally handled addiction is through abstinence of the problem.

"Obviously it's not working," Limayem said. "That's why I started looking at the phenomenon much deeper and what I found is that probably addiction does not explain everything."

He found that some people have more of an obsession with it; almost to the point of showing the traits of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

"It's exactly opposite of what we do in case of addictions," he said. "We should go a little bit deeper and the way you deal better with obsession in this case: Education, awareness, desensitizing people from the impact of not answering within a few minutes notice."

Consider this, he says: Someone afraid of germs who might consistently wash their hands.

"Now imagine for that person you come and say 'if you wash your hands I'm going to put you in jail or you're going to pay a fine,'" he said. "That person will absolutely panic and go into more anxiety and will find ways to wash their hands anyway."

His research found concerns about work topped the list of reasons people just won't put down their phones behind the wheel.

"People are anxious something important might come up and they cannot answer it very quickly," he said. "The expectation is they're available 24/7, 365."

Second was the demands of family.

"You are worried if your son, daughter, spouse, family member is texting you ... it's an emergency," he said.

Third came friends and social networking.

"Phone companies have made it so easy for us to use different functions like our e-mail, social media, text message, GPS ... all of that comes from our phone," said Henry Reinberg, a USF student, who has started a campaign against texting and driving. "Since we use our phone so much it becomes kind of a centralized device we go to all the time...even if we don't need to."

Limayem thinks awareness and education is what could change the culture.

"It doesn't mean that we should not have fines for people who text," Limayem said. "I think that's fine. But if that's the only thing we do - I think we are missing the boat."

And since work concerns top the list, he believes that where change should begin.

"This is becoming a work-place issue; an organizational issue," he said. "I think we also need to educate. We need awareness campaigns for companies ... Even when you give these phones to employees - make sure you adjust to the expectations: What could happen if you really don't answer your text within a few minutes until you find a place to safely pull over?"

It makes since to the students working with him on the educational campaign.

"We raised awareness for drunk driving," said USF student Priscilla Curcino. "Why can't we raise awareness for something that's just as important and just as dangerous?"

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