Study: “threat appeals” reduce inclination to text while driving

Each year, the toll of distracted driving mounts in lives lost, injuries caused and dollars wasted. Thousands dead, hundreds of thousands injured and billions of dollars squandered. We all know of this horrific toll taken by distracted driving, yet you can still go around St. Louis and see people texting as they drive.

A study by researchers at Penn State University and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) appears to have devised a promising strategy to reduce texting while driving and the motor vehicle crashes it causes. The researches found that video-based “threat appeals” can make drivers aware of the dangers of texting and discourage risky phone-focused behavior.

The Penn State psychology professor who is lead author of the study says that a “threat appeal” doesn’t have to be graphic and “it doesn’t have to be scary” in order for it to work. It does have to appeal to a person’s emotions, however, and make them think about the dangers of distractions and their very real consequences.

He said effective “threat appeals” can focus on a driver’s fears of causing his or her own death, or focus on their “anticipated regret” of causing deaths or injuries to others.

For the study, 100 Penn State students were split into two groups: a 51-member control group and a 49-member experimental group. The experimental group watched a one-minute video-based threat appeal that showed a driver swerving into an oncoming vehicle driven by a mother accompanied by two young children as the driver responded to a text.

In the threat appeal, time stops and the two drivers have a brief conversation that shows the crash is about to happen. Time then restarts and the violent collision happens. Afterwards, viewers are urged not to text and drive.

The control group saw a car commercial that showed no texting and driving, no threat, no collisions. It was the visual equivalent of a placebo, researchers said.

Afterwards, both groups were given a survey about their willingness to delay texting. The difference in the willingness of the two groups to delay their texts was dramatic: the control group was approximately 50 percent more likely than the experimental group to simply give in to temptation and text while driving.

Of course, that inclination makes them significantly more likely to be involved in a car accident that will result in injuries or fatalities.

Let’s hope this study and others will help people to stop engaging in risky behind-the-wheel behaviors that endanger themselves and others.

Contact a St. Louis attorney experienced in personal injury litigation if you or a loved one has been harmed by a distracted driver.