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Guess: What’s one habit that’s very common and extremely dangerous?

Yes, of course, smoking. But what else?

Using your smart phone while driving is a terrible habit. So common, so dangerous. About one quarter of car accidents involve the use of a smart phone.

It’s easy to think, “Oh, I’ll just glance at the screen,” but it takes a minimum of five seconds to take a look, and if you’re going 55 mph, you’ll go the length of a football field in that time.

And it turns out that just reaching for the device raises the chance of an accident.

Probably, most of us know that using a phone while driving is a bad idea. And yet we’re in that habit. So how to stop?

In Better Than Before, I identify twenty-one strategies that we can use to make or break our habits, and this is a great place to use the Strategy of Inconvenience.

True, some people try to break this habit by working on their will-power: reminding themselves of the danger, steeling themselves to resist the siren call of the ring-tone, etc. My view: this doesn’t work very well.

Don’t work on your attitude, work on your surroundings. @gretchenrubin (Click to Tweet!)

The Strategy of Inconvenience

To a surprising degree, we’re powerfully affected by how easy or hard it is to follow a habit. So if you find yourself irresistibly tempted by the phone, make it super-inconvenient to get to it.

The glove compartment may not be inconvenient enough. Put the phone inside your bag or briefcase in the back seat, behind the driver’s seat. Then you really will not be to grab it from your seat.

Or better, put it in the trunk. Then it’s really safe.

What if it’s an emergency?

If the smart phone is in the back seat, it’s smart to mute any alarm sounds. When we hear a ring or a buzz, we start getting curious — who’s calling? What does that text say? We can also start to get worried. Maybe it’s an emergency! I need to know!

If you tend to worry that you’ll miss an emergency call, remind yourself  that:

  1. True emergencies don’t happen very often and
  2. If you use your phone while driving, you’re dramatically raising the chances that you will be the subject of the emergency call that someone you love will receive.

If you want to read more about the subject, I highly recommend Tom Vanderbilt’s book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). I know, it sounds boring (how interesting can traffic be?), but it’s truly fascinating.

What other strategies have you used to keep yourself from using a smart phone while driving? We can all learn from each other.


Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than BeforeOn her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.

Image courtesy of Pamela Webb.

September 19, 2015