Between Oprah Winfrey’s No Phone Zone Pledge and the U.S. Department of Labor’s anti-distracted driving initiative, there have been numerous attempts to stop people from texting at the wheel. But the latest method uses public shaming to humiliate offenders.
Photos featuring distracted drivers who were caught using their phones with their eyes off the road are plastered on 11 billboards across the Bay Area of San Francisco for four weeks each, but they can be viewed now on the Texting While in Traffic (TWIT) website.
Anybody can post pictures of distracted drivers, and even though the effort is called Texting While in Traffic, users are encouraged to submit images of people eating or applying makeup as well.
A graphic designer named Brian Singer created the website with the goal of putting an end to distracted driving by leveraging community involvement and documenting violations, in the hope of raising awareness to the cause.
“The biggest hope is for people to drive safer and reduce the amount of distracted driving, and for there to be fewer accidents and deaths because people are distracted by cellphones or whatever they are doing in their car,” Singer said.
The San Francisco Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
All the photos singer has taken for the website have been along the freeway, while he was riding as a passenger, joking that he would never try to take photos while he’s driving, which would defeat the purpose. He says the response has been overwhelming.
“I’m struggling to keep up. It’s overwhelming,” Singer said. “So many people are sending me notes thanking me for what I’m doing and people are messaging me stories of things that have happened to them as a result of distracted driving.”
Texting while driving is illegal in California and, according to decidetodrive.org, a national public service campaign that uses television, radio and print to spread public service messages, “drivers are more likely to report observing distracted behaviors in other drivers than say they engage in the activity themselves.”
A Decide to Drive study found that 99 percent of people reported seeing other drivers talking on a phone, but only 61 percent reported that they have done it themselves. Also, when 1,500 driving-age adults were surveyed, 83 percent claimed to drive safely, yet they believe only 10 percent of other drivers drive “safely.”
“Texting while driving is linked with drinking and driving or riding with someone who has been drinking among high school students in the United States,” according to a Centers for Disease Control study that analyzed self-reported data from the 2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
The CDC reports that every day in the United States, more than nine people are killed in crashes that involve a distracted driver, while more than 1,060 people are injured.
Distraction.gov, the official U.S. government website for distracted driving, also has a section on its website that shows “the faces of distracted driving,” which showcases the tragic stories of people affected by distracted driving.
Singer says he has nothing against the people photographed and doesn’t mean to publicity shame anyone, but just wants to create a dialogue and promote awareness.
The “public service campaign” is independently funded and not associated with any group, Singer says.