Our Addiction To Cell Phones Is Costing Lives. Here's How We Can Stop It.

06/09/2015 01:48 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2015
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Texting while driving can lead to a catastrophic accident in just a few seconds.

It's a sobering reality, with no bigger reminder than the recent incident of a school bus driver crashing into another bus filled with school children while he was distracted by his phone. Three passengers died, including two young elementary school kids.

So what causes our insatiable need to constantly check our devices? Dr. David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, told The Huffington Post that when cell phone users compulsively check their devices it is in an effort to stimulate the brain's pleasure centers. And in this way, cell phone use can be compared to gambling or gaming addictions.

"Smartphones are essentially the world's smallest slot machine," Greenfield said. "Every time you go on your phone, whether to look at a Facebook update or check your email, you never know what you're going to get and how good it's going to be."

There is a pay off that compels us to check our phones, even though the consequences could be deadly, according to Greenfield.

"It’s very neurologically addicting," he said. "When you get a hit -- finding something or hearing from someone, you get an elevation of dopamine, and it compels us to keep checking."

Through his research, Greenfield said a vast majority of people not only admit to checking their cell phones while driving, but admit that they know it's unsafe. Drivers keep doing it anyway.

"If you think about what it takes to pick up your phone, scan it, and push the necessary buttons to respond, you're talking about many seconds," he said. "You're taking your attention away from a highly complex task for five to 15 seconds, and that's all it takes for a tragedy to happen."

Five is the average number of seconds that drivers take their eyes off the road to send a text. Drivers can safely glance away from the road for no more than two seconds before putting themselves and others in danger.

Checking our phones while driving is a game of Russian Roulette, Greenfield said. So how do we stop gambling with human life?

Kathryn Henry, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, told HuffPost the agency is trying to do more to educate citizens on the dangers of texting and driving, including holding workshops at schools.

"Anything that takes your eyes off the road is not good," Henry said. "We've really amped up our public awareness in the past couple of years."

Greenfield said that only stricter laws banning the use of phones in cars altogether will save lives. Currently, 46 states ban texting while driving, but only 14 ban drivers from talking on their cell phones.

"As a doctor, this is not going to be solved by medical or psychiatric means," he said. "This is going to be solved by tougher laws and banning smartphones in cars. No amount of public education is going to fix this."

Greenfield referenced the push by the advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving for stricter laws as something worth replicating.

"MADD came in and said 'Enough of this shit, this is not working, we need to toughen the laws and consequences,'" he said. "That's when all the drinking and driving started to slow down, and deaths slowed -- it was because the laws got stricter."

"I think eventually phones will be be banned in cars, period," he added. "There’s just too much evidence and too many people dying."

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