While 98 percent of drivers say they know texting while driving isn’t safe, over half of them still report doing it. The same goes for using the phone and engaging in other distractions while driving. Why do we keep doing something we know isn’t safe?

New research may shed light on why distracted driving habits are so difficult to overcome. Put simply, using a phone while driving can become an addiction.

The science behind smartphone addictions

Scientists have found that cellphone use – specifically, alerts indicating a new text message, social media notification, phone call or voicemail – trigger the same reward centers in the brain as other addicting behaviors. This expectation of a reward (in the form of a new message or social media post) floods the brain with dopamine, the neurotransmitter that’s responsible for pleasure. At the same time, the part of the brain that deals with judgment shuts down. It becomes harder to ignore your phone, so you end up checking it even though you know you shouldn’t.

Breaking the cycle

Many parents want to model good behavior for their children, yet struggle themselves to ignore incoming texts. Distracted driving is a problem that affects drivers of all ages.

Like all habits, checking your phone while driving becomes ingrained over time. Breaking that habit requires effort. Even though you know better on an intellectual level, it takes willpower each time a text comes in while driving to decide to watch the road and ignore your phone.

Each time you put the phone away, you make progress toward breaking the addiction. On the other hand, every time you “get away” with checking a text while driving, your brain receives the message that it’s safe to repeat that behavior.

By making a point to put down the phone while driving, we can all contribute to safer roads and help prevent devastating accidents.