The demographic of cell phone users is all over the map. Young and old use cell phones. And both admit to using them while driving. But many more young adults and teens use them over the population of older adults. Many teen drivers believe that use of cell phones while driving is not an unsafe activity. Where did they get this idea? From their parents says a survey conducted by Liberty Mutual and Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD).
The concepts behind safer cell phone use should comprise the infrastructure of consumer education on the topic. Right now safe driver tips are widely published and distributed among insurance companies, consumer advocates, and cell phone industry lobbyists. Everyone agrees that the right information is the necessary first step.
Like the old adage, you can put the information everywhere a consumer goes for cell phone information, but unless there is incentive to change unsafe behavior then consumers will continue to dial while driving. And dialing is not the biggest threat to safety—it might very well be text messaging. Driving while texting (DWT) has been heralded as a growing problem, but anyone who is savvy with text messaging knows the practice is anything but new, it’s just suffered from the trickle up theory. Teens especially are susceptible to text messaging. Many report this takes priority over actual voice calls; a formidable danger over any hands-free phone call any day. Right now hands-free texting just doesn’t exist.
Part of consumer education involves building a strong message for or against something, such as the message, “Drive Now, Talk Later” of NPR’s Car Talk show, or the “Hang Up and Drive” slogan. Both are strong messages suitable for bumper stickers, refrigerator magnets, tee-shirts, mugs and other highly visible surfaces. Sound like an advertising campaign? Savvy marketing crafts an effective message.
Getting the message to adult consumers can be a challenge. Teens and young adults spend a considerable amount of time online which means websites can be loaded with information the delivers punchy and memorable lessons. But how do you access adults?
Hundreds of online sources provide information related to cell phone safety, but on a large scale, how much of the driving population does the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) reach? Most adults respond most to messages they see in mainstream culture and media. “Car Talk,” of NPR fame is an example of a strong message outlet. This program enjoys a fan base made up of serious car buffs and cult talk radio-heads. This duo of brothers delivers an up-front message for drivers that use cell phones—it’s dumb, so don’t do it.
Mainstream journalism provides an educational outlet for adult-focused content. The New York Times reported on Washington State’s anti-texting law. But other sources such as the MSNBC and CNN have pulled stories to the forefront. Perhaps one of the most visible campaigns is that by Allstate Insurance. The company’s TV commercial entitled, Multi-taskers, illustrates the distractions common among drives, including use of a cell phone. While the ad fails to emphasize cell phones over other unsafe practices, it nevertheless underscores distracting behavior.
How do kids get their information straight about safe use of cell phones? Disturbing studies show parental behavior sends a clear message. Educate parents and you have a life line to teens. But kids also need to take in and evaluate their own information. MTV has emphasized a few cell phone safety stories. And a dozen or so states’ laws are designed to keep teens from using phones while driving. But evasion of law enforcement is fairly easy; so not that effective a lesson.
Nationwide, employees that use cell phones to conduct business are learning to change behaviors thanks to corporate cell phone policies. The new boundaries effectively define safe from unsafe, a difference that may have been murky water for some. This will eventually help mold the sensibilities of adult drivers whose cell phone practices had most likely gone unchecked.