Punishment Before Education to Curb Distracted Driving?

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Punishment, more than education, may be the key to preventing texting and driving, according to experts.

As Fleet Owner reports, experts suggest both punishment and education are required to curbing distracted driving – but in succession: First, significant punishment to change the behaviour followed by education to sustain it, say those who study the phenomenon. They point to other public health case studies such as seatbelt usage and drunk driving that followed this formula.

“We know from NETS data, the Network of Employer for Traffic Safety, that companies that have rules and punishments in place, have fleets that are about twice as safe as the ones that don’t,” says Paul Atchley, Ph.D. who studies distracted driving. He is associate dean, professor, Department of Psychology at the University of Kansas.

Each day in the U.S. approximately 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Sending or reading a text message takes your eyes off the road for about 5 seconds, long enough to cover a football field while driving at 55 mph.

“Education has never solved any of those problems. We’ve never successfully educated towards a better public health,” Atchley said. “The bottom line is in order to change behaviour, you have to actually change behaviours, not attitudes. Attitudes will shift later.”

Atchley notes that distracted driving is particularly difficult to curb because phone use can be addictive.

“Smart people in Silicon Valley have successfully engineered these devices to encourage users to constantly pay attention to them,” he said. “The second thing is that when you’re driving, the area of your brain that you would use to exhibit willpower and ignore the device – the prefrontal cortex – is being used by the driving task. Your willpower to ignore this otherwise very compelling device is tapped out. What we see is even for people who know better, if the device is in the car with them and that signal happens to let them know that there’s something going on, this chain of bad behaviour starts where they look at it and pick it up, and suddenly they find themselves engaging with it. Once this potentially addictive device is in the car with you, it’s game over.”

David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine agrees that punishment followed by education works best but there are other steps in the process.

One is technology based. “There are automatic applications that are hardwired into the phone [to prevent texting while behind the wheel]. I don’t mean software that is controllable by the user, but technology that already exists.”

Greenfield notes: “Most of us, in spite of the fact that we know it’s dangerous, and that people die and people are hurt, will still do this behaviour. So, the education has to be on the neurobiology and the addiction of the devices, because that’s really not happened in a large, public forum yet.”

He adds: “The other thing is education of the law enforcement community because they really don’t understand how to detect [this behaviour], and how to manage it.”

Full story here.

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