I just attended a forum organized by state Rep. David Scribner (R-Brookfield) where he talked about the new distracted driving legislation that recently passed the state Senate. If signed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, the legislation will make texting while driving a finable offense.
The statistics about texting and driving are scary. In 2008, 6,000 people died from accidents caused by distracted driving. Driving while texting impairs you as much as driving with a blood alcohol level that is two times above the legal limit.
Teens sited similar statistics when they created some PSAs for a contest sponsored by Traveler’s Insurance. The 30-second spots showed teens texting and crashing and texting and hitting someone on the road. One PSA even managed to make a lady in the audience gasp. But will they really be effective?
Admission: I text while driving. I don’t do it too often, but I don’t never do it. And if someone texts me, I almost always read it, if not respond. I’m in the age group, 18 – 24, that is most likely to text while driving. From personal experience, I know when I text, most likely I can do it without blowing a stop sign or hitting another car. The PSAs make me think, “texting is dangerous, I really shouldn’t be doing it.” But I also think. “But I probably will anyway.”
And now I know there is a possibility of getting a fine, but I also know from experience it’s a very low chance. An officer speaking at the presentation admitted there just aren’t enough officers to go after the people talking on their phones or texting.
Something Scribner said in his presentation really struck me:
It’s a cultural and societal issue. People answer their phones because of their chronic sense of immediacy. It seems to take over the level of judgement for some.
No matter how many PSAs with car crashes tragic music you show a young adult, their sense of having to be connectedness will outweigh their fear of the consequences. According to a Retrevo study, 49 percent of people 25 and younger will interrupt a meal for an electronic message. Twenty-two percent said they would interrupt a meeting. Eleven percent said they would during sex!
If you want young adults to stop texting and driving, you have to get the message across that they don’t need to know/respond right away. I propose a self-test. Next time, fellow youngs, you read or answer a text while driving, evaluate how truly urgent the message was. Ask yourself, could it have waited? Most of the time the answer is going to probably be, yes, it could have. It’s an ego check, you have to admit to yourself that the world can go on if you are unreachable for the next half-an-hour.
Perhaps grassroots campaigns could get people to sign up for a text message alert that will be sent to you at a random time that says something like, “what did you just interrupt to check me? Were you driving? [insert distracted driving statistic here].” I think it would be good mental exercise to put people through. Even if they got the message while not driving, people might be awakened when they have to mentally answer “a family meal,” or “a conversation with an old friend I haven’t seen in a year” or “a date with someone I really like.”
Of course the solution is going to involve mix of punitive consequences and increased education, but we also have to address the cultural aspect of it, too.