The highest incidence of distracted driving occurs among adolescent drivers, and car crashes are their leading cause of death. Over half of high school seniors admit to texting or emailing while driving, and this number has been on the rise. The purpose of this study was to develop, implement, and evaluate a school-based program to reduce driver distraction among adolescents. Borrowing from the lessons learned in alcohol and tobacco control, interventions were designed that incorporate anti-manipulation strategies, behavioral strategies, and social norms marketing approaches. This approach represents a significant departure from awareness-focused programs currently dominating the field.
The In Control: Beyond Distraction program was developed with input from student focus groups and an advisory committee of school personnel. The program was conceptualized using Social Cognitive Theory and incorporates anti-manipulation strategies, principles of behavioral psychology, and social norms marketing approaches. The pilot study was carried out via a pre-post control-group design in two Hampton Roads, VA public schools (one control and one intervention) using a student-led approach for all interventions. The schools were 50% Black, 34% White, with 40% enrollment in the free and reduced lunch program. The program promotes the norm to be in control, and key messages were portrayed in a series of posters prepared in American comic-book style that depicted the phone as a source of control over the teen. Accompanying interventions included social norms marketing, social media discussions, tagline and public service announcement contests, and other competitions for students. Classroom surveys (N=1147) conducted before and after the program assessed self-evaluations of distracted driving behaviors, beliefs about related risks and consequences, and perceptions of personal susceptibility to crashes. Anonymous parking lot observations of student drivers (N = 1644) were also conducted before and after the program which tallied talking on a cell phone, texting or other handheld technology use, and other distractions.
Results and Conclusions:
Evaluation indicates that this program was successful in deterring distraction-related perceptions and practices at the intervention school as students gained more driving experience, whereas control school students’ distraction-related perceptions and practices worsened over time with increased driving experience.
Full results are available, upon request.