Don’t Text and Drive, or the Feds Will Slide Into Your DMs
For the last seven years, the US government has tried everything it can think of to end distracted driving. It’s hosted national summits, helped 46 states ban texting while driving, and sunk millions into ad campaigns that discourage the addictive behavior. None of it’s worked. Distraction behind the wheel still kills about 3,000 people a year in the US, and injures 431,000 more. Yikes.
Now, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) is trying what so many denizens of the Internet do when frustrated: It’s trolling. Its targets are Twitter users who admit to, joke about, or don’t adequately denounce texting and driving.
— NHTSA (@NHTSAgov) April 22, 2016
The usually buttoned-up NHTSA social team has been reprimanding offenders on Twitter for three years now, but keeps its trolliness to April, which for the last six years it’s branded as Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Distracted driving encompasses all sorts of behaviors, but NHTSA’s social media campaign targets phone use because it’s especially dangerous, pulling your visual, manual, and cognitive attention away from the road.
“We’re doing everything short of sliding into the public’s Direct Messages to get [the] point across,” says Bryan Thomas, a NHTSA representative who’s clearly been studying his Generation Z lingo.
It’s not the first time a government has publicly shamed in the name of the law. In 2014, San Francisco slapped big red signs on seismically risky properties that hadn’t retrofitted their buildings as required. Ohio wants to expose officials who abuse tax dollars with legal but sketchy spending choices (like expensing a luxury hotel or paying off college loans with state funds) by making their wrongdoings public. NHTSA’s hope is that if it personally tweet-shames a distracted driver, they’ll drop the phone and prevent a car wreck.
“People are justifiably surprised to have a government agency show up in their Twitter notifications—I would be too,” says Thomas. “But the response has been positive. We’ve engaged with six times as many people as we normally would.”
Your future Tinder matches would appreciate it if you didn’t swipe and drive. Put the phone down and #justdrive.
— NHTSA (@NHTSAgov) April 21, 2016
NHTSA’s clearly focused on the youths. It also made a Snapchat filter available last week (for people to use when they’re not behind the wheel). It wasn’t as popular as the Twitter campaign currently is, but the team’s inundation of social media has a good shot at reaching young drivers. Whether those drivers take the message seriously is unclear, but so far they’ve been liking and retweeting the NHTSA’s digital finger-wagging. Progress!
If NHTSA could get through to them, the roads would be a lot safer. When it comes to car crashes, teens are more likely to be distracted than members of any other age group. Sending warnings to the phones glued to their faces could be the best way to change their behavior.
The Twitter shame campaign is scheduled to end April 30, but the dangers of distracted driving won’t. And if the fear of getting burned by a government official doesn’t stop you from picking up your phone while driving, the odds of getting in a deadly car accident should.
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