woman texting and driving (Photo: William Howard; Getty Images )

In 39 states, you just broke the law.

It happens every day. About 31 percent of Americans ages 18 to 64 have texted while driving in the past month, according to new research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other research suggests that number is much higher: A University of Kansas study of almost 400 young adults, for example, found that more than 95 percent admitted to texting and driving. It's a problem, considering the National Safety Council estimates that about 28 percent of car crashes are caused by using a phone. (Get more life-changing health tips sent straight to your inbox every day by signing up the FREE Men's Health Daily Dose newsletter.)

"People know that texting and driving is dangerous--many even say that someone who causes a crash texting is more responsible than someone who's driving drunk--but then they still do it," says Paul Atchley, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Kansas.

In fact, a new University of Barcelona study released last week suggests that you might as well be drunk if you're typing away at the wheel: When people responded to text messages while driving, the effect was similar to being behind the wheel with a blood alcohol concentration of 1.0 grams (g) per liter--above the legal limit of 0.8 g.
But if the U.S. Department of Transportation suggests that the average text message takes your eyes off the road for almost 5 seconds--comparable to driving the length of a football field at 55 miles per hour, blind--why do we do it?

Are We Addicted to Texting?
Atchley has spent years researching that very question. "The term 'addiction' gets thrown around a lot," he says. Sometimes you use it yourself, thinking: My kids/sisters/employees are addicted to texting. You might also even feel it: I should answer this right now.

"If you're addicted to something, you make irrational decisions," Atchley points out. An alcoholic, for example, won't seek out the best booze; he'll just want to satisfy the craving, even if it means using rubbing alcohol--an irrational decision, he says. But with texting, it's different: In one experiment, Atchley and his team found that people wanted to answer texts from their significant others before responding to acquaintances--the equivalent of seeking out good liquor, he says.

"Texting isn't an addiction; it's a compulsive behavior," he says. You see, information loses value quickly. After 6 hours, there's no point in texting your girlfriend back--you just want your phone back, Atchley says. That might explain why in one set of experiments, people were willing to give up a large reward to text a significant other back within a half hour instead of waiting that 6 hours.