BMW recently launched a provocative campaign targeted to adults, which uses children as the reason to finally change their ways when it comes to texting while driving . While the brand was lauded by public health and transportation safety organizations for its efforts, receiving even more attention by these groups was its much smaller initiative, a “DON’T TXT & DRIVE” message/video being shown at more than 100 teen driving schools conducted across the U.S. this year.
As much as most experts agree that all drivers could use a friendly (albeit not so subtle) reminder of the risks of texting while driving, few would argue that teens pose the greatest risk to themselves and others while on the road.
According to the Department of Transportation, teenagers are already at a greater risk and are more likely to suffer severe injury when using a handheld device while driving. Their research shows that one in five drivers admits to texting while driving; however, when the question is posed to 16- to 19-year-olds, the percentage leaps to 70%.
Is it just that teens don’t know any better? Maybe…We know that the prefrontal cortex, known among scientists as the “area of sober second thought,” is under-developed in teens, causing the average teenager to assess and respond to risk differently than (not as well as) the average adult. But most research on teens and texting while driving has shown that teens are aware of the risks. In a 2009 study out of the University of Kansas, investigators found that even though people believe that talking on a cellular phone while driving is dangerous, they will tend to initiate a cellular conversation if they believe that the call is important. When it comes to texting while driving, it seems that getting teens to stop isn’t about telling them something they don’t know. So what’s the solution?
Some studies have suggested that parents’ actions say more than their words when it comes to texting while driving. Research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that teens whose parents had three or more crashes on their records were 22 percent more likely to crash at least once, compared with teens whose parents had no crashes. Likewise, the research found that children whose parents had three or more violations on their records were 38 percent more likely to have a violation on their own records, compared with teens whose parents had none. Many teens assert that parents warn them about texting when taking the wheel, even while they dial and drive themselves.
Technological developments are under way that would literally shut a phone down if it's used in a moving vehicle. But these types of controls, if they follow trends from other technology sectors, are likely to be adopted by only a few. And determined drivers might find ways around these blocks that circumvent parents’ good intentions.
Peer pressure might be the most powerful influence on changing their behavior for the better. S.A.D.D. proved more effective than M.A.D.D. in changing teens’ attitudes towards drinking and driving. But even more important, teens who refuse to drink and drive often site social desirability as one of the key reasons why they resist. Ironically, the “everyone does it” statistics that make teen texting seem like a universal bad habit might do less to deter behavior change than we think. In fact, a new conversation – one started by teens themselves – is likely the only kind of communication that will truly turn the tide in this next public health crisis.