Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's going to take more than just a PSA

I had my doubts when I saw the British texting-while-driving PSA. Too long, I thought. Too mawkish, too theatrical. Overdone and tedious. Will the kids even listen?

Some did, I think. One of my younger Facebook friends posted the PSA to her page, along with her reaction. Her friends chimed in with similar reactions. The PSA had struck a chord with them. Would it do the same with other people in the same age group?

Well, no. Not all of them. Going through the comments to the linked video, it's obvious that some kids have fairly predictable reactions: Those sorts of things happen because people are stupid and don't know how to multi-task. Doesn't apply to me. I'm smart and I'm a good multi-tasker. I can text and drive at the same time. Don't worry about it.

It's scarier to listen to the teen drivers interviewed in this piece from yesterday's All Things Considered.

But the bottom line is -are Americans, especially teens, ready to give up driving distractions? Not these teens.

Ms. BRITTANY LUI: Heck, no.

Ms. PREE TAUTELLI: I would break here right then, heck no. I mean, we would not even go near that. We don't need that.

BRUNDIN: It's two o'clock, school's out and Pree Tautelli and Brittany Lui and friends are piling into a Mini Cooper in Salt Lake City. They didn't like the thought that their parents would have a device in their car to block calls and texts.

Ms. TAUTELLI: I love texting and driving. It's the in thing.
Are these kids the norm? Or just idiots? Or is there perhaps considerable overlap between the two groups?

Texting while driving is enormously dangerous. It involves far more focusing of awareness than most other distractions. Why do kids want to do it, feel the need to do it? Maybe it's the forbidden fruit thing, or it's a way of being rebellious. Maybe it's the thrill of living dangerously, of knowing that you're getting away with doing something that could easily kill you. Maybe it's a sense of having superior skills, being better at doing stuff than the poor dumbasses who can't text and drive at the same time.

I don't know what the solution is here. My kneejerk reaction is to suggest Draconian punishments - say, suspension of license until age 21 for a first offense - but I doubt such a thing would fly. How about giving cell-phone bill-payers the ability to turn selected services on and off at selected times? Most kids probably aren't paying for their own cell phones, but are sponging off their parents. So why not allow parents to decide which services they want their kids to have access to? (There's probably a very big financial "why not" in the minds of the telecoms; kids racking up text messages in excess of their monthly allotments are likely a major source of income for these companies. )

Maybe texting is just a passing fad, something that will be gone with raccoon coats and hula hoops and 23-skiddoo and hunkering and telephone booth stuffing, something that will be supplanted by future technological developments and eventually wind up looking as cool as the programming on a Commodore Vic-20. Maybe not. Maybe it will take something really major to change kids' minds. I don't know.

In any event, I think it will take a lot more than a PSA.

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