April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, making this an opportune time to evaluate our current efforts to change driving attitudes and habits.
Social norms theory has been used to reduce risky teen behaviors in the context of drinking and tobacco use on college campuses. Essentially, social norms theory provides that the frequency with which a population engages in a risky behavior (e.g. binge drinking) is generally over estimated and the frequency with which that population engages in the healthy behavior (responsible drinking) is underestimated. The effect of these misperceptions can be that those who engage in the healthy behavior falsely believe that they are in the minority, while those who engage in the unhealthy behavior falsely believe that they are in the majority and that most people behave like they do. Social norm proponents argue that once the true facts are made known there will be pressure on those engaging in unhealthy behaviors to consider whether they should continue doing so, and those who have been engaging in healthy behaviors, now knowing they are in the majority, will be more likely to speak up and influence others to behave safer.
Although 31% of 16-18 year-olds report that they text while driving, two-thirds of 16-18 year- olds do not. When teens hear these facts you can see they are surprised. By correcting this misperception we can help non-texting while driving teens to feel more confident in their choice and embolden them to speak up when other teens drive distracted. And once the texting while driving teens learn that most of their peers do not behave the way they do, they may be more receptive to thinking about changing their behaviors.