2.1 Communications and Outreach on Distracted Driving
Overall Effectiveness Concerns: Based on NCHRP research, there are no studies of any campaign’s effects on driver knowledge, attitudes, or behavior (Stutts et al., 2005, Strategies C1 and D2).
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 the radio or CD player, eating). They may in fact be useful, to keep drivers alert on a long trip.
There is strong public support for communications and outreach to reduce distracted driving. For example, 80% of respondents in a Canadian survey agreed that greater awareness and education efforts are needed to alert drivers to the problem of distracted driving (Vanlaar et al., 2007). Many organizations have developed or conducted distracted driving communications and outreach campaigns directed to the general public. Some carry a general “pay attention” message, while others are directed at specific behaviors such as cell phone use. Examples of national communications and outreach campaigns over the last decade include:
- “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” A campaign program released by NHTSA in 2014 in support of texting ban enforcement during Distracted Driving Awareness Month (www.trafficsafetymarketing.gov/get-materials/distracted-driving/u-drive-u-text-u-pay);
- “Put It Down.” A national campaign by the U.S. Department of Transportation to discourage the public from driving distracted;
- “Faces of Distracted Driving.” A national campaign created by DOT that tells the stories of families who are victims of crashes involving a distracted driver;
- “No Phone Zone” by Oprah Winfrey;
- “On the Road, Off the Phone” by the National Safety Council;
- “Decide to Drive” by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons/Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers;
- “Texting While Driving: It Can Wait” by AT&T; and
- “Stop Texts, Stop Wrecks.” by NHTSA and the Ad Council.
Driving while distracted is a particular concern for teenage drivers (Foss & Goodwin, 2014; NHTSA, 2012). GDL passenger and cell phone restrictions directly address two sources of distractions, as discussed in the Distracted Driving chapter, Section 1.1. Broader communications and outreach efforts for young drivers regarding distracted driving also have been proposed. For example, a growing number of States are including distracted driving as a required component of driver education, the State’s driver license test, or information provided in the driver license manual (GHSA, 2013). Some States have also developed their own education material and programs aimed at teen drivers. See Governors Highway Safety Association (2013) for links to these materials.
A campaign at the University of Kansas combined traditional media (e.g., newspaper ads), social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter), and “guerilla marketing” strategies to increase awareness about the dangers of texting and driving, and to foster a negative view of texting and driving among the college community (Atchley & Geana, 2013a). The campaign promotes a “TXT L8R. Drive Safer” message. A survey of University of Kansas students found 75% had seen the TXT L8R message, and a third (32%) reported talking with a friend during the last month about the risks of texting while driving (Atchley & Geana, 2013b). See Atchley and Geana (2013a) for more information about the TXT L8R campaign.
The ultimate goal of these campaigns is to change driver behavior, but they face substantial obstacles. As discussed in other chapters, communications and outreach by themselves rarely change driving behavior (Alcohol-and Drug-Impaired Driving chapter, Section 5.2; Seat Belts and Child Restraints chapter, Section 3.1; Speeding and Speed Management chapter, Section 4.1; see also Stutts et al., 2005, Strategy C1). 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, 2007). A broad “stay alert” message may be too general to have any impact. Also, commonly used fear appeals are generally ineffective and in some cases may actually encourage greater distracted driving, especially among young adults (Lennon et al., 2010, but see Bummara & Choi, 2015). 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). Perceptions of distracted driving messages may also differ among age and gender groups, which makes necessary the involvement and input of stakeholder groups in the development and testing of distracted driving PSAs (Bummara & Choi, 2015; Solomon et al., 2010).
Use: A GHSA survey found that 47 States and the District of Columbia have implemented public information/education campaigns to address distracted driving (GHSA, 2013). In addition, some States have developed distracted driving PSAs.
Effectiveness: Based on NCHRP research, there are no studies of any campaign’s effects on driver knowledge, attitudes, or behavior (Stutts et al., 2005, Strategies C1 and D2). A scan of documents through September 2019 found very few evaluations for the effectiveness of stand-alone outreach campaigns. One evaluation of a 30-second video among a small sample of university students reported that the fear-inducing messaging may deter texting and driving (Bummara & Choi, 2015). Almost 64% of the respondents reported that they strongly or somewhat agreed that they were less likely to text and drive after exposure to the PSA.
Costs: A high-quality campaign will be expensive to develop, test and implement.
Time to implement: A high-quality campaign will require at least 6 months to plan, produce and distribute.
- Non-traditional communication channels: At least 36 States as well as NHTSA use social networking sites to educate motorists about distracted driving (GHSA, 2013). Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube can effectively and inexpensively reach large numbers of people. Social networking sites are especially popular among young people, who are often a primary target of distracted driving campaigns.