In addition to risk and danger, should we also be talking about values and respect when it comes to deterring distracted driving? Despite a number of well-intended campaigns by governmental agencies, corporations, law enforcement, healthcare providers, cell phone service providers and insurance companies, barely a dent has been made in the distracted driving problem. These campaigns have focused on trying to educate drivers about the dangers of driving distracted. One limitation of this approach is that drivers who have “successfully” texted while driving, meaning they have not yet been in a crash, are not likely to think their behaviors are risky or dangerous.
A recent survey from AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 88% of drivers surveyed said that distracted driving was their biggest highway concern, with drugged driving at 55% and drunk driving at 43%. Other findings from AAA Foundation indicate that in 2017 more than 55% of 19-39 year olds read a text while driving and more than 42% sent texts while driving. Despite our aversion to others driving distracted, apparently many of us feel it’s okay when we drive distracted.
Practicing the Golden Rule to End Distracted Driving
So how do we deal with that hypocrisy? A new approach being taken by EndDD.org (End Distracted Driving) shows promise. It focuses on one of our core values, specifically our respect for others. Respecting others includes treating others the way we would like to be treated, or the Golden Rule. It’s important to most of us to treat others in a respectful manner and it’s also very important to us that we are perceived as being respectful of others.
In speaking with thousands of teens and adults over the last year, after establishing that respecting others is one of their core values, I have asked those attendees who have admitted that they text and drive, the following question: “Is there anything at all respectful about looking away from the road to text while sharing the road with others?”
Every single person has said “no” and has looked very uncomfortable. Virtually all said they felt guilty or hypocritical. Their belief that they were respectful of others was belied by their distracted driving behaviors. Psychologists refer to this state of mental discomfort, when beliefs run counter to behaviors, as “cognitive dissonance.” To reduce the feelings of discomfort people will often change their behaviors to conform with their beliefs, i.e., if I want to be that respectful person I know I am, or want to be, then I should not drive distracted.
Practicing the “Golden Rule for Distracted Driving” would result in drivers giving up distractions to be respectful of others and to treat others the way they want to be treated. Using this approach may have the advantage of eliminating the defenses raised when statistics about the dangers of texting while driving are given: “I am a safe driver;” “I can handle it;” or “I have never been in crash.”
EndDD.org will continue to evaluate this approach in its distracted driving presentations through pre-presentation and post-presentation surveys. Using these surveys, as well as focus groups, we are gathering data to evaluate the effectiveness of the “Golden Rule” approach and would welcome partners to also test this approach using our prepared power point presentations. We would also welcome input from researchers who could apply more rigorous evaluation techniques.
Finding new approaches that will resonate with drivers and cause them to drive distraction-free is sorely needed. I drove distracted frequently and changed my driving behaviors only after my 21-year-old daughter Casey was killed by a distracted driver. It shouldn’t have to take losing a loved one for all of us to change the way we drive.
There is something appealing about using messaging to save lives that results in us treating others with respect, even when driving. Our respect for others shouldn’t fly out the window just because we get behind the wheel of a car.
Joel Feldman is an attorney in Philadelphia who established EndDD.org after his daughter Casey was killed by a distracted driver. Since her death he has spoken to more than 125,000 teens and adults across the country about distracted driving. Mr. Feldman can be reached at info@EndDD.org