So, this is embarrassing. New Jersey is spending $1.2 million to crack down on distracted driving with a program they’re calling “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” The program has already caught a big fish. NJ’s first lady, Mary Pat Christie, was pulled over in April for using her phone while driving.
The officer let NJ’s first lady know that he was on a grant detail for distracted drivers. “I have to write tickets for the cellphone and stuff.”
“Oh, I know,” Christie said. She ended up pleading guilty and paid a $250 fine.
In a similar case, Oregon police last month nabbed a state rep who supported its new 2597 bill that prevents drivers from using a handheld device while driving for doing just that – using her phone while driving. The state rep, Julie Parrish, said her experience is a good example of how law enforcement is enforcing the new law. The police fined her $265.
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia now have laws banning the use of handheld devices while driving. But the question is – if a governor’s wife and a state rep who supports such a bill were driving distracted after these laws were in place, what chance do they have to reduce distracted driving on a large scale?
To get a better understanding of the impact these laws are having on distracted driving behaviors, we conducted an analysis across drivers in our TrueMotion Family and Mojo apps in Oregon and Washington, which introduced DUI-E – Driving Under the Influence of Electronics – this summer. DUI-E has gotten a significant amount of media attention with its provocative name equating distracted driving to drunk driving.
For our analysis, we looked at a core metric of distracted driving – distracted minutes per hour, or DMPH. When DUI-E began in Washington in late July, there was a flurry of media activity about the new law. Google searches for DUI-E increased dramatically. Awareness for the new law was high. Two weeks after the law went into effect, DMPH dropped to 8.2 DMPH from 9.8 DMPH, a 16% reduction. However, after a month of lower levels of distracted driving and after Google searches and awareness for DUI-E dried up, DMPH in Washington began to rise again. It reached 10.5 DMPH by October 21, its highest level since late April.
We see a similar pattern with Oregon’s new distracted driving law that went into effect October 1. Distracted driving in Oregon dropped to its lowest point in months immediately after the law began, but soon crept up again in the following weeks. Why?
These results suggest a few things. First, the new laws alone aren’t enough to curb distracted driving. Distracted driving behaviors like texting, making phone calls, and using our phones in general are too ingrained in our daily lives to eradicate them passively. There’s fanfare and media coverage when new laws are introduced and enacted, but interest quickly fades. We see this in the results in the distracted driving behavior and the Google searches from Washington’s DUI-E rollout.
In addition, there’s the potential for what’s called the boomerang effect – when you want to do one thing but it creates the opposite effect. For example, Jason Rantz, a talk-show host in Washington, published an op-ed on why he wouldn’t follow the distracted driving law.
The second takeaway is that general awareness of distracted driving and the resulting penalties seem to have an effect on reducing distracted driving. The results for DUI-E’s first few weeks are evidence of this. The non-trivial challenge is maintaining this level of awareness for every ride every day.
What’s needed is a more holistic approach where government officials work with insurance agencies and telematics companies to develop programs that work hand in hand in reducing distracted driving. Apps like Mojo that are designed to reduce distracted driving with advanced behavioral modification techniques work – we’ve seen a 20% reduction in distracted driving across our apps. But they need the top-down support from government officials and insurance companies to drive mass adoption. Otherwise, you get a press release, some potentially embarrassing media coverage, and a short-lived period of reduced distraction.