A study recently released by the Oregon Department of Transportation appears to show that careful and comprehensive education efforts can have a significant impact on distracted driving, according to a recent report by Bend TV station KTVZ. The station quotes an ODOT report finding that “a coordinated high-visibility campaign in Bend aimed at reducing distracted driving had a significant impact on raising awareness of the importance of not texting/talking while driving.”
According to the TV station, the study was co-sponsored by the ODOT, Portland State University and Bend’s police department. “The report shows, among other findings, that almost 12 percent of people who were exposed to the “U Drive, U Text, U Pay” message reduced their texting-while-driving activity,” KTVZ reports.
Considering that the tagline of the campaign focused on money – the fines drivers can receive if they violate Oregon’s distracted driving laws – it is especially noteworthy that the study found that “the most common reason for respondents decreasing their texting-while-driving was ‘increased awareness of safety.’” This reason was cited by 30 percent of the drivers studied. In other words: while the campaign slogan focuses on drivers’ wallets the program was successful because it helped convince Oregon drivers that safety issues come first.
The article quotes the head of the ODOT’s Transportation Safety Division saying “we know cellphone-involved crashes are severely underreported.” What is even more fascinating, however, is the study’s finding that “the age group with the highest reported cellphone usage while driving (is) 35-44 year-olds and the lowest reported usage” is among the youngest drivers: 16 to 24-year-olds. What this hints at is the possibility that more distracted driving education programs should be aimed at older drivers, not in place of the many existing initiatives focused on teens but as a supplement to them.
As a Portland distracted driving attorney I hope this study receives the attention it deserves. We talk a lot about these issues here in Oregon and around the country but too often the conversation focuses on assumptions rather than facts. As this study demonstrates the problem is not confined to teen drivers and can be effectively addressed by a well-constructed education plan. KTVZ notes that the ODOT plans to use the survey data “for coordinated educational and enforcement campaigns.” That is excellent news, and a sign that the state continues to take distracted driving seriously. On a holiday weekend, when more people than usual are on the road, it is particularly timely news.