Scare Them or Reason with Them? What’s the Best Way to Stop Teens from Texting and Driving?

If you are on Facebook, Twitter or even just have an email account, chances are you have seen one of the latest viral videos making the rounds on the internet. Unlike many viral videos, this one applies to people of all ages and, instead of tickling our funny bones, serves as a sobering reminder of the deadly consequences of texting and driving. But some critics, as evidenced in a recent New York Times technology piece, think the video will not resonate with its primary audience – teens.

Have a look below. Be warned that the video is very graphic when depicting the consequences of texting and driving.

This video is just a small part of a 30 minute public service announcement put together by the police department of a small Welsh county called Gwent. When asked about the graphic nature of the piece, Peter Watkins-Hughes, the film’s director, said that young test audiences reported that the video should be shocking and violent in order to get teenager’s attention. Mick Giannasi, chief constable of Gwent police, said that the department decided to make a new video (their previous video had been on the dangers of joyriding), after young people reported that texting and driving was the major danger teens face on the road today.

But some critics, while allowing that the graphic video has gone viral for a reason, doubt that scare tactics will curb the urge to text while driving.

From the Times:

“When you look at something like cell phone use or texting, most people already know these behaviors are not safe, but they do them anyway,” said Anne T. McCartt, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group financed by auto insurers. “But the challenge in highway safety is that we do unsafe things day after day and don’t end up in a crash, and so I think, over time, people go back to their everyday behaviors.”

W. Kip Viscusi, a Vanderbilt university professor who studies risk, took a more jaded view.

“It goes back to, ‘What are you trying to accomplish with the warning — are you trying to inform people, or are you treating them like lower beings that have to be shocked into the way you want them to behave?’ ” he told the New York Times.

On the other hand, people like Richard Tay, a road safety researcher at the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary, thought that the portrayal of people being killed by a texting and driving accident would get through to teens.

“The guilt model does work fairly well in young people,” he said.

In the United States, nonprofits such as the Ad Council are trying a different tactic – humor. In this video, actor Fred Willard threatens to haunt a teen texter.

What is your opinion on the best way to get the texting and driving message through the heads of young people? Should we try to scare them with violent and graphic videos, or appeal to their funny bones? Leave your take on this serious issue in the comments.