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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Don’t succumb to FOMO

Most of us know that FoMoCo is a common symbol for Ford Motor Company, the automobile manufacturer.  The meaning of FOMO is lesser known, but does have notable ties to the automotive industry and the operation of motor vehicles.

FOMO is an acronym for a phrase borne of social networking through texting, Instagram, etcetera.  It stands for Fear Of Missing Out, an obsessive condition experienced by habitual social network users.  The affliction is not only emotionally exhausting, but often physically dangerous, particularly when driving.  Experts claim that nearly three-quarters of young adults say they’ve experienced all-consuming FOMO, which in turn has been linked to lower levels of general mood and life satisfaction.  But according to recent research in the journal, Risk Analysis, it can also be linked to a harrowing outcome:  car crashes.

Although distracted driving causes thousands of fatalities per year, many drivers still don’t perceive texting and web surfing as particularly dangerous, researchers behind the study note. In their research, scientists reiterate findings similar to other studies that talking on a cell phone increases the risk of crashing by 2.2 times while texting increases risk it by 6.1 times.

In their survey of over 400 Australian drivers, the team attempted to discern reasons why people continue to drive distracted even though it’s obviously dangerous.  Two of the major reasons people continue texting while driving, the researchers explain in an accompanying statement released Monday, include the sense of separation anxiety and the “fear of missing out” on whatever friends are doing or talking about.

It is theorized that FOMO affects the choice to text while driving.  “FOMO is a powerful motivator of behavior, including smartphone checking behavior,” says cyber psychology researcher Jon Elhai, Ph.D., who was not a part of this research.

Participants in the study admitted to checking smartphones while driving despite it being risky and potentially harmful behavior. It’s explainable though, as even though drivers know the risk of using smartphones while driving, they tend to overestimate their ability to multitask.  Many think that other people are the ones who are not so adroit.

Elhai, whose own research on FOMO demonstrates that the feeling is driven by a need for a tactile sense of social fulfillment, says that FOMO is most often experienced by younger individuals.  This new study links FOMO to young adults also and indicates that the longer a person has a driver’s license, the likelihood of engaging in distracted driving behavior increases..

The survey results also showed that women are more likely than men to use their phones while driving and somewhat predictably, those who use their phones the most often are the least likely to believe that it will cause them to crash.  Overall, the researchers claim that 68 percent of the surveyed drivers “reported needing a lot of convincing to believe in the dangers of texting and driving.”

That danger is well documented.  In the United States in 2016, approximately 3,450 motor vehicle deaths were linked to driver distraction, with an additional 562 deaths (pedestrian, bicyclists, and others) caused by operator distraction.

The researchers summarize that to combat the problem of texting while driving, more governments need to establish laws that require people to use hands-free devices while in the car. Whether or not there’s an effective way to combat FOMO remains to be seen, but  putting the phone away (hands-free or not) while driving is the safest behavior for certain.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at