Monday, August 31, 2009

Feedback on the Texting While Driving Video

The NYT has an article about "Some Doubts About Scare Tactics on Drivers Who Text". Several key points stand out.
A violent ad must also instruct people on how to change their behavior, otherwise, “to erase the fear quickly, you say, ‘That’s not me,’ ” Professor Tay said. And just because an ad is popular does not mean that viewers will change their driving behavior, he said. One reason that violent ads may not work as well is that teenagers are already well aware that some activities are dangerous, said W. Kip Viscusi, who has studied risk for decades and is a professor at Vanderbilt University.
My son watched it. Although he did not take issue with the implications--texting could easily cause a fatal distraction--he also did not dwell on them. What immediately got his attention was the relatively poor production values--he said "that looks so fake". He was right of course. It was not bad, for a $20,000 budget, and was certainly gory enough, but by today's standards of special effects, it was quite unconvincing. The result, I think, was that a subtle equivalence was quickly set up in his mind--fake effects, so dismiss the whole message.
Cheryl Healton, chief executive of the American Legacy Foundation, a group that specializes in antismoking efforts, suggested that cellphones could show a prompt on their phones, reminding people not to text and drive.
A boring, boilerplate warning--really??. When does it display--every time you re-start your phone? Every time you start a text? I'm afraid this is a hoary chestnet from the classic school of good intentions, but poor results.
Kelly K. Browning, executive director of the advocacy group Impact Teen Drivers in California, has suggested an idea, Star 65 to Stay Alive, to AT&T, in which the company could set up a code of *65 to disable incoming calls and texts, and send automatic response messages like, “I’m driving right now. I’ll get back to you when I’m off the road.”
This has a little bit of merit. But just a little--it takes a lot of motivation and forethought for the user to use it. Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of the "Do Not Disturb" feature, and not just for drive-time. But as a major cure for driving while texting, I deem it unlikely to have any significant impact. (There is another product that does something like this, ZoomSafer.) However, if you combined this feature with GPS-based texting de-activation--now you would be talking!

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