Thursday, 16 January 2014

How to Reduce Texting while Driving - Using Innovative Methods in Policy-Making

The most widely used policy intervention to reduce texting while driving is banning drivers from
Photo Credit: American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia

using hand-held and/or hands-free mobile phones. However, many studies claim that such bans, when enforced strictly, at best have a temporary effect in bringing down accidents before drivers resume old habits. Also, enforcing such bans is challenging because it is difficult to see whether a driver is texting unlike intoxicated driving where sobriety checkpoints serve as an effective enforcement mechanism. Given the above facts, can stronger enforcement or greater publicity and outreach help in significantly deterring texting while driving?

It is well-known knowledge that texting while driving can be life threatening, just as smoking is injurious to health. Yet the human mind defies existing knowledge and rational behaviour to indulge in reckless actions. How do we alter irrational human behaviour to save more lives?

The answer may lie in using behavioural science to design interventions and nudges that can prevent unreasonable human behaviour. In Mumbai, behavioural scientists have brought down the number of deaths resulting from crossing a railway track by enforcing innovative interventions that alter the behaviour of trespassers at vulnerable spots.  Similarly, “texting zones” in New York State that provide motorists with a pull off area to park and use their cell phones can possibly help in delaying the use of cell phones. High level mobile use, according to a study by University of Illinois, is associated with two behavioural determinants - perceived social norms and degree to which individuals see mobile phones as a part of their self. If policy interventions aim at targeting these behavioural traits it might lead to minimising such irrational behaviour. Of course, such measures would require a systematic collection of qualitative and quantitative data on road accidents caused by mobile phone usage.

Scientific and evidence based interventions aimed at targeting reckless behaviour can help in strengthening existing policy measures like bans and public awareness. Such interventions should emerge from out-of-the-box thinking that dredges such irrational behaviour into the realm of awareness and rationality.

Karishma Mutreja

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