We thought it was brilliant that Twitter launched a TV ad campaigned tied with a NASCAR race this weekend. Tweeting and TV go hand in hand for many Millennials, commenting on their favorite shows and sports moments. But what doesn’t go well together is tweeting and driving. That’s why we were distressed when one of the brief ads showed driver Brad Keselowski (who gained additional fame a few months ago for tweeting from the track) behind the wheel of his stock car tweeting a photo. No, the car wasn’t in motion in the ad or during the first instance when he tweeted from the racetrack, but any depiction of a driver behind the wheel of a car with a cell phone in hand adds to the idea that it’s acceptable behavior.
One of the reasons that teens and 20-somethings are so likely to text (or tweet) while driving is because the dangers of doing so haven’t sunk in. In our Lifeline: Risky Business survey, we found that 39% “sometimes” or “often” text while driving. They’ve heard that it’s dangerous, but unlike smoking, for example, it’s a relatively new concern. Millennials have practically been beaten over the head with the idea that smoking is a very risky behavior, and as a result, very few smoke, but the issues around texting and driving have only recently come to light, and teens and 20-somethings have yet to internalize the danger and decide to change their behavior.
Ultimately, most think they can handle both driving and texting at once, and they have an “it won’t happen to me” mentality about accidents, despite the PSAs that have been airing in the past year or so. In fact, the older they are the more likely they are to occasionally text and drive because they’ve been doing so for a while without incident. Part of the problem is that the messages about the issues around texting and driving are off. They tell young drivers personal stories about a teen who caused an accident that killed a friend, for example, or the story of someone who lost a relative. It sounds like these stories would hit home, but instead the messages are off-putting and teens continue to disassociate, believing that they’ll never experience such a tragedy themselves.
We think the clever approach that DoSomething is taking might finally get teens to want to think critically about texting and driving. It found that 40% of teens had been in a car when a driver used his or her phone, putting them in danger, so its Thumb Wars campaign — beginning June 19 —includes a social sharing component. Teens can sign up to get two pairs of Thumb Wars thumb socks (it’s nearly impossible to text while wearing them) so they can keep a pair and give a pair to a friend who they have seen texting while driving. Instead of sad stories or gory accident details, the socks are a fun reminder for teens to keep their thumbs on the wheel when driving — and it’s a message they’ll want to share.