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Ringing Bell, Ringing Cell: The Driving Danger From Pavlovian Conditioning

On Behalf of | Jan 1, 2019 | Articles

A bell rings, and a dog salivates. In eager expectation of a meal, its ears perk up, its eyes roam.

In a well-known experiment Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov rang a bell before his dogs were about to be served a meal for several days. Later, when the bell was rung, the dogs began to involuntarily salivate even in the absence of food, as they had learned to associate the stimulus of the ringing bell with a meal.

Pavlovian conditioning, also called classical conditioning, has ingrained itself as an important tenet of psychology as well as a periodic contributor to pop culture. It helps explain why certain stimuli become deeply associated with a particular response such that habitual reactions follow almost automatically.

Harkening back to Pavlov’s original experiment, ringing is still a pervasive conditioned stimulus in today’s high-tech world – only it is no longer associated with a call to a meal. Now, it has many of us reaching unthinkingly for a mobile electronic device.

Do You Answer Whenever (And Wherever) You Hear Your Ringtone?

Think it over: when you hear your ringtone, how often do you find yourself mechanically reaching for your pocket or purse? In a crowd, particularly popular ringtones sometimes even have a humorous effect, with one ring sending half a dozen hapless mobile device users scrambling for their phones.

Beyond its entertainment value, in some contexts, the Pavlovian attachment many of us have to our mobile devices can be a positive thing. After all, you may be proud to say that your customers feel secure knowing the moment they call, you will be immediately accessible to meet their needs, or that your family can count on hearing your voice at any time of day. But, in the wrong environment, obeying the subconscious urge to snatch up your mobile device at the sound of the bell can be dangerous – even deadly.

The Center for Disease Control reports that in an average year, almost 1,000 roadway deaths and approximately 24,000 injuries can be directly attributed to distracted driver crashes, in which cell phone use is cited as the major distraction. Talking, texting or reaching for a mobile device can all be sources of distraction, and as mobile devices become more deeply ingrained in our culture and our psyches, the problem is only getting worse. From 2005 to 2009, the proportion of drivers who were reportedly distracted at the time of a fatal crash grew from 7 to 11 percent.

Local Efforts Target Acute Distraction Danger Posed by Atlanta’s Teen Drivers

Cell phone distraction is a particularly prominent problem among younger drivers: drivers under the age of 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes. Not only are teenagers less experienced behind the wheel generally; their entire generation has been raised surrounded by mobile electronic devices, trained to respond to electronic warnings and ringtones.

Perhaps it comes as little surprise that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. However, while the raw numbers are certainly frightening, the good news is that many of the deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving are preventable.

In the Atlanta area, multifaceted efforts have been underway to curb the teenage distracted driving scourge. A ban on texting while driving has already been Georgia law for quite some time. However, a statutory prohibition handed down by lawmakers is rarely enough on its own to change teens’ behavior, particularly when it comes to something as deep-seated as cell phone use.

In a grassroots effort led by its agents, insurer Allstate has been taking a different approach to help get Atlanta teens away from their phones and focused on the road. Allstate’s “X the TXT” campaign came to Atlanta in late March. As part of a traveling forum held on the dangers of texting and driving, participants are asked to add their thumbprint to a pledge banner as a representation of their promise not to text and drive. They are then given a thumb band to wear as a reminder to keep their thumbs locked around the wheel when driving rather than allowing them to stray to the keyboard of a mobile device. As of April 2012, more than 150,000 Americans have taken on the pledge not to text and drive.

Conditioning Yourself for Safety

A classically conditioned response to a stimulus is not an easy thing to reverse. Day and in and day out, we are conditioned to meet the ring of a text or a call with an instant reply. Yet with focus it can be done. Teaching teenage drivers in your life to resist their tech-inspired instincts behind the wheel can help keep them out of a hospital bed or the office of an Atlanta car accident attorney. Consider the implications of your standard response to your cell phone ringing in terms of safety behind the wheel, and mull over the kind of example you want to give to younger drivers.

The ring of a mobile device could ultimately cause you, a family member or a friend to be in a car accident. If you are in an accident the advice of a car accident attorney regarding your right to compensation will allow you to gradually pull your life back together.