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This countermeasure involves distracted driving communications and outreach campaigns directed to the general public. Since distracted driving is a particular concern among teenage drivers (Foss & Goodwin, 2014; NHTSA, 2012), distracted driving campaigns may specifically target teen drivers. Some campaigns carry a general “pay attention” message, while others are directed at specific behaviors such as cell phone use.

Distracted driving communications and outreach campaigns face challenges in how the issue of distraction is characterized and understood by drivers. Drivers “know” at some level that they should be alert. However, as discussed in the Overview, distractions come in many forms. Distractions outside the car are not under the driver’s control. Many distractions inside the car also cannot be controlled easily (conversations, children), or are intentional (listening to music, eating). They may in fact be useful to keep drivers alert on a long trip.

Many organizations have developed or conducted distracted driving communications and outreach campaigns directed to the general public. Examples include U Drive. U Text. U Pay (NHTSA), Put It Down (U.S. DOT), No Phone Zone (Oprah Winfrey), Texting While Driving: It Can Wait (AT&T), and Stop Texts, Stop Wrecks (NHTSA and the Ad Council).

The ultimate goal of these campaigns is to reduce distracted driving, but their effectiveness for reducing distraction and ensuing crashes have not been evaluated well and they face substantial obstacles. As discussed in the Introduction, communications and outreach by themselves rarely change driving behavior. To have any chance, stand-alone campaigns must be carefully pre-tested, communicate health information not previously known, be long-term, and have substantial funding (Williams, 2007b). A broad “stay alert” message may be too general to have any impact. Furthermore, commonly used fear appeals are generally ineffective and, in some cases, may actually encourage greater distracted driving, especially among young adults (Bummara & Choi, 2015; Lennon et al., 2010). This “boomerang effect” of fear appeals is thought to occur because people deny the threat or feel their personal freedom is threatened, making the undesirable behavior even more attractive (Lennon et al., 2010). Finally, high-quality communications campaigns are expensive to develop, test, and implement. For all these reasons, communications and outreach alone are not a recommended approach to address distracted driving.