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Is distracted driving really worth the risks?

Whether or not we realize it, many of our decisions in life are based on an immediate cost-benefit analysis. Behavioral rewards are weighed against risks, and we choose accordingly. And while we usually get things right, we often make the wrong decisions as well.

Why do some errors leave us feeling like we did our best while others leave us with deep regret? In many cases, a mistake feels especially "stupid" because we didn't carefully consider the serious negative consequences of a behavior; we only considered the marginal benefits. Distracted driving is one of the best examples of this phenomenon.

Most people who text and drive do so because they assume (consciously or unconsciously) that the convenience and entertainment of it outweighs the risks. But anyone who has ever hurt themselves or killed others in a distracted driving accident would tell you that it was perhaps the worst decision they ever made.

California's ban on texting and handheld cellphone use is a deterrent for some, but the problem of distracted driving remains pervasive. The same is true in other states. Because laws alone are not enough, drivers need to hear the stories of other drivers who now live with deep regret.

Recently, a judge in Michigan delivered a unique sentence in the case of a 23-year-old woman who killed a bicyclist in a distracted driving crash last year. In addition to paying tens of thousands of dollars in fines and restitution, the woman will spend 90 days in jail, perform 150 hours of community service and speak to 20 classes of driver's education students about the consequences of her behavior. The judge also ordered that for the next two years (while she is on probation), the woman is not allowed to own or even use a mobile device.

Admittedly, the last part of that sentence could probably be legally challenged. But the judge's larger goal was to send a message to other distracted drivers that this behavior is not acceptable. The woman will probably send that message emphatically as she speaks to groups of driver's education students.

When doing the cost-benefit analysis of texting and driving, ask yourself what you will gain compared to what you have to lose. Is it worth risking your life or someone else's life?

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