Everyone knows it is dangerous to text while driving but people did it anyway so states responded with laws prohibiting it. Since enforcement of these rules is difficult, more states are moving to hands-free driving, making it illegal to hold a phone no matter what the reason. New York is trying to provide incentives to wait-to-text by installing frequent signs and 91 “text stops” along their interstates. Insurance companies are urging states to go even further and ban all phone use in cars.
I am reminded of the famous “Don’t Mess with Texas” ad campaign. While the state has since adopted it as a mantra and symbol of their rebellious independence, the slogan originated to stop litter on Texas highways. The brilliant ad agency believed they needed to appeal to people’s pride in their state rather than point out the obvious that littering was bad. I think the same applies to texting.
Everyone knows what behavior is best for them; drivers know there are places to pull over just a few miles down the road, and most would agree that hands-free can reduce some distractions. But none of the current laws, ad campaigns or gimmicks will move the needle on behavior until something changes the identity of the texters.
Instead of hard-to-enforce laws, governments and insurers should spend their resources to come up with the next identity-changing frame. Maybe you can be the one that causes people to see themselves as undesirable if they pick up the phone behind the wheel as in “Don’t let the phone win — Have the willpower to wait.”