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TWD going the way of DUI: Research

The good news is, the vast majority of young drivers and passengers (91%) now know how dangerous it is to text while driving (TWD) – very close to the figure for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol: 97%. We’re making progress, people. The bad news – according to research my organization, ConnectSafely.org, has conducted with the support of AT&T – is, 43% of US 13-to-17-year-olds agree that “practically everyone texts while driving,” when in fact only 15% of teen drivers often or very often do so. Even if we add in “sometimes TWD,” the figure is less than a third (29%).

That last data point is great news, isn’t it? It shows the word’s getting out and a lot of young people are being smart behind the wheel. But what’s badly needed – according to the social norms research – is for more young people to be aware that TWD is not the norm, that “practically everyone” is more like “hardly anybody.” Because when we (the human race) know that most people don’t engage in risky behavior, the likelihood that we will goes down too. We humans like to conform to the social norm. So when we know what the norm is – shutting down or ignoring chirping phones when we’re driving – we’ll be smart too. Help us get the facts out (we’ll be releasing the full survey report Dec. 5), and together we can actually help TWD go the way of DUI and become highly marginalized risky behavior. Social norms are powerful, and the need to understand and leverage their power is growing in this age of user-driven, borderless, social media.

And now, especially as we approach holiday travel to gatherings of family and friends, there are other ways to support progressive social norms around un-distracted driving: family discussions and policies, road signs that inform rather than scare, helper apps that tell friends when we’re driving, etc. But above all, we need to speak up! Friends and family need to support each other’s smart driving behavior and let each other know when they feel uncomfortable in unsafe situations. More than three-quarters of 13-to-17-year-olds (78%) said they stopped (not would stop, but stopped) when someone said something negative about TWD. Eighty-nine percent said they’d stop if a friend asked them to, 94% if a parent asked them to (note that good influence you have, parents!). And here’s a thought for Thanksgiving: 44% say they would be thankful if a passenger complained about their texting while driving.

Related links

  • Here’s a Vermont Public Radio reporter’s own experience with TWD, with some tips for drivers.
  • Research shows that sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for nearly five seconds. At highway speeds, that’s enough time to travel the length of a football field – see this AT&T blog post.
  • Here’s an infographic from Stop the Texts on their Facebook page.
  • Take the “It Can Wait!” pledge (about that AT&T campaign here).
  • Pew research on TWD
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