As has been discussed here before, driving while using electronic communication devices is dangerous whether you go hands free or not. Matt Richtel, who won a Pulitzer Prize for covering distracted driving (and is a very nice fellow to boot), has a piece in NYT today examining whether the reason people keep doing something so dangerous is that they are addicted to texting/calling on the road.
When Matt and I talked about this over the last few days, I was struck by how at least some people had suggested to him that there are, crudely speaking, two kinds of people in the world: Those who are affected by culture and environment and those whose behavior is an uncontrolled and uncontrollable addiction. It’s a common distinction to draw, but an erroneous one.
Even the most hard-core addict is affected by the environment. That’s why they often hide their addiction: They know it is culturally shameful. And as HOPE probation and Steve Higgins’ brilliant contingency management studies show, given a particular, predictable sets of rewards and punishments, even “hopeless addicts” can change how often and when they use substances. I know devout Muslims and Jews who are pack a day smokers yet always abstain at religiously appropriate moments (e.g., during Ramadan for the former and on Sabbath for the latter).
As my friends (including Harold Pollack) know, when I call someone and they tell me they are driving, I tell them I will call them back later when I can talk to them without putting them at risk. As this and parallel behaviors (e.g., asking the driver not to text while you are a passenger) become more normative, the culture will slowly shift to being less tolerant of texting and phoning while driving. And that will have a good effect on everyone, whether they consider themselves addicted to the technology or not.