Sometimes when I am around teenagers with eyes fixed on their cell phones, I recount my teenage years when my friends and I would make plans after school, and then wait by the phone at home to finalize plans those plans. We didn’t have the constant connection to each other. Conversations ended before leaving school and couldn’t resume until we arrived home. But cell phones have made us available every minute of every day, through all our activities, even driving—and that distraction is not reserved to teenagers. Many adults are guilty of letting someone know they are on their way, or asking if anything is needed from the grocery store or checking on where a child may be. Whatever the reason, we know we shouldn’t do it, and we know the consequences can be devastating.
In April 2014, 32-year-old Courtney Ann Sanford died in a crash that authorities say happened no more than one minute after she had updated her Facebook profile with the status, “The happy song makes me HAPPY.” Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident. Statistics from the Department of Transportation confirm that as many as 6,000 deaths a year are attributable to texting and driving. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, also reports that texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an auto crash than driving when intoxicated.
Although the potentially negative effects of handheld technology are clear, it is that same technology that savvy communications professionals are skillfully leveraging, via social media to help spread the word that texting and driving is a dangerous, deadly, and completely unnecessary activity. In 2010, AT&T launched the anti-texting while driving campaign #itcanwait. To date, more than 6.5 million people have pledged not to text while driving. In September of last year, the campaign branched out with the hashtag #x, as a way to inform those with whom you are communicating that you are putting a pause on the conversation because you are driving. The campaign went viral, with celebrities like Demi Lovato and Tim McGraw lending their celebrity status to the cause. Just this past December, Nissan joined NBC Universal and Adam Levine to promote “Red Thumb Day,” a nod to the “Red Thumb Reminder” created by Steve Babcock of EVB Advertising. The number of media mentions of that movement to date has reached 42,747.
It’s almost embarrassing to admit that until about one week ago I had not heard of either of these campaigns. I thought I kept a decent pulse on trending Twitter/social media topics, but clearly I had missed the boat on this one. The overall impact of these campaigns is yet to be seen, but at least companies and celebrities are doing their best to bring awareness to the cause. As health communicators we too need to be aware of and concerned with this public health issue and use our professional platform to spread the word about the anti-texting while driving initiative.