The disconnect between drivers and mobile phone use – Monash Lens

Have you read the message that even a two-second glance at your phone means you’re driving blind? Or heard the slogan “When you’re on the phone, you’re driving blind”?

These road safety campaigns illustrate how the dissemination of information, often stylized using emotive and fear-based messaging and content, highlights and intensifies perceptions of the risks and harms associated with dangerous driving behaviors.

It is believed that alongside formal deterrent mechanisms such as police enforcement and fines, articulating the antisocial or reckless nature of specific behaviors can transform the attitudes, values ​​and norms of road users.

Our initial study of smartphone use while driving was the first to measure the effects of these formal (laws and enforcement) and informal (social and emotional) mechanisms to deter drivers from illegal smartphone use.


Read more: Nomophobia and illegal mobile phone use on Australian roads


We found only informal mechanisms – i.e. fear of harming self or others, guilt associated with illegal use, and fear of peer disapproval – predicting the likelihood that a driver has engaged in illegal use during the previous month.

Although roadside advertising and television campaigns disseminate information, messages should explore beyond a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Specifically, for each increase in agreement with the statement “I would feel guilty after using a mobile phone while driving even if I was not caught by the police”, drivers were 24.2% less likely to claiming to have broken the law.

Moreover, each increase in agreement with the threat of physical loss (i.e. “If I used a mobile phone while driving, I would worry about hurting myself or others”), the probability of illegal use decreased by 15.3%.

Although these results are interesting in themselves, guilt and fear are complex emotions, closely linked to the social and cultural environment, neurology, past behaviors and knowledge and perceptions of potential harm and risk. Although roadside advertising and television campaigns disseminate information, messages should explore beyond a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Therefore, using the same sample, we conducted a second study to determine whether perceptions of information highlighting different risks and harms of illegal use were associated with drivers reporting different levels of guilt or fear of driving. to have an accident. Collecting this data can support campaigns to explore the potential of targeted and tailored road safety messages as part of their multi-pronged approach to increasing road safety.

Using information presented in previous campaigns (e.g. “A two-second glance at your phone while driving 50 km/h effectively means driving blind for 27 meters”) and four other risks and harms informed by peer-reviewed research (“Contributes to traffic congestion”, “Contributes to 16% of deaths and serious injuries on Victoria’s roads each year”), we only asked to drivers who admitted breaking smartphone laws how effective they thought the risks/consequences were in deterring their future use.

The study found that 67.3% of male drivers and 73.3% of female drivers were unaware of the impact of illegal smartphone use on serious injuries and fatalities among road users. road. (In comparison, 35% of men and 52.9% of women did not know the information “Driving blind”).

The results of the illegal use of smartphones must be brought to everyone’s attention through targeted and appropriate messages.

By comparing these results and their impacts on perceptions of informal mechanisms (i.e. guilt, fear of physical loss), we found differences that could be attributed to age, gender and age. the frequency of illegal use while driving. These results support our assertion that road safety information should be tailored and targeted.

Drivers also rated this information as the most effective in deterring their illegal use, although the novelty of this information should be considered. Additionally, the effectiveness of this information was associated with drivers admitting higher levels of guilt and fear of injury.

Given that our previous study showed that, among informal mechanisms, drivers were primarily concerned that their illegal use would injure other road users, the toll of illegal smartphone use should be made public through targeted and tailored messages.

Our results also revealed that the more drivers illegally interacted with their device, the less likely they were to feel guilty, fear peer disapproval, or injure themselves and others, suggesting that over time, the behavior normalizes.

Drinking, drug driving and mobile phone use – how they compare

Interestingly, the second most effective piece of information was the one comparing performance declines from illegal smartphone use with alcohol/cannabis-impaired driving.

More than half (50.4%) of female drivers and 39.9% of male drivers said they were unaware of this risk. Moreover, the effectiveness of this comparison was associated with increased levels of fear of peer disapproval and hurting others. For many road users, this comparison could therefore provide relevant and effective answers.

Associating the illegal use of the smartphone with drunk driving is a novel approach. Decades of campaigning, education, advertising and community activities, as well as formal measures such as increased penalties, behavior change programs, roadside breath testing and alcohol ignition interlocks, have contributed to a low social tolerance for this behavior. As such, drunk driving is stigmatized and surrounded by social disapproval.

The two behaviors, however, are driven by fundamentally different attitudes, values, and norms. To change public opinion and behavior, advertising must recognize the complex social and cultural factors that affect use – the simple act of blaming the driver omits his social reality, where obligations to employers, commitments to family and the need to stay connected or obtain information may motivate what they perceive as ‘benign’ use.

At a time when social and digital media enable the delivery of relevant and representative messages to specific audiences, the use of billboards, television or other general media to deliver road safety campaigns is not the more the most effective method. Targeting the right message to the right person or group will have the greatest impact.

About Anne Wurtsbach

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