I stopped smoking a few years ago. These days, while driving, I sometimes answer my cell phone or make calls.
Last week, Deborah Hersman, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, gave an impassioned plea for drivers to stop using cell phones while driving.
I know she’s right. Using the cell phone while driving is distracting and dangerous. I also know that “Just Say NO” doesn’t work to change people’s behavior.
Matt Richtel in his New York Times article “Reframing the Debate Over Using Phones Behind the Wheel” unpacked some of the motivators that make cell phones so compelling.
Like smoking, being able to communicate anywhere may have a cool factor like smoking had years ago. Cell phones relieve restlessness and boredom. The compulsion is powerful: “People do not know when an urgent or interesting e-mail or text will come in, so they feel compelled to check it all the time.”
We are social animals. “The ring of a phone or the ping of text becomes a promise of human connection.” Information has a value that is lost over time. Answer it now; send it now.
Consider this a good social marketing exercise to think about what it will take to change societal values and behaviors surrounding using cell phones while driving.
How about a technology fix that would block cell phone signals while a vehicle is in motion? That would stop cell phone use but also insure that my family and friends would choose never to ride with me.
Tough laws, enforcement and education have worked in effecting changes in drunk driving, seat belt and helmet laws.
As a smoker, I heard all the health reasons to stop smoking. Shown all the ways second-hand smoke hurt those around me. Figured out how much the habit was costing me. I’m sure there were smokers who quit for those reasons. I quit but not for any of those reasons but quit because it was something my father wanted me to do and, after he passed away, I thought there was at least one hard thing I could do for him. And I did it.
Different motivators work for different folks.
Smokers quit for a number of different reasons. Smokers die. Smokers get taxed heavily. Smokers have fewer and fewer public places where they can smoke. Smoking is no longer a societal norm because of a combination of education, regulation and enforcement.
Maybe messaging that says “driving while texting is just not cool” would work for a social segment. Maybe “driving while phoning is dangerous to your health” would work for another. Or “practice safe text.” Or even an abstinence pledge for others. More research is needed here.
In the meantime, maybe cell and smart phone manufacturers would include an easily activated message and voice mail feature that says, “Hey dudes, I’m driving, be back soon.”
If you drive and text and kill yourself, that’s fine with me. But if you hurt or kill others, you go to hell. Maybe those zealots who pushed relentlessly for no-smoking regulations would work to provide a meaningful deterrent by strengthen the penalties for drivers at fault in accidents when they were using a cell phone. (Yes, phone records can be subpoenaed.)
And maybe friends and family, if they can take a moment off from their handheld devices, could remind drivers that “Friends don’t let friends drive and text.”
What do you suggest?