Texting & Driving Debate Puts Spotlight on Behavior-Based Safety

This graphic video on the dangers of texting and driving has been viewed more than 4 million times according to an article in Monday's New York Times.

But Anne T. McCarr, a senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, explained to the paper why the video will likely do little to curtail this dangerous habit:  "When you look at something like cellphone use or texting, most people already know these behaviors are not safe, but they do them anyway...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."

She's right. Negative sanctions need to be put in place for those who cause accidents while texting but this will achieve only limited success because of our inability to apply consistent, immediate consequences to the unsafe behavior.  Because of this lack of consistent enforcement people will find clever ways to text without getting caught.

Unfortunately, texting while driving is one of the many cases where technology has advanced more rapidly than the ability to manage the behavior associated with it.  The most effective short-term solution is a technological one that disables texting while the car is moving, much like the built-in GPS systems in cars that don't allow input while the car is in motion.

Beyond the debate over texting and driving, however, the video does remind us that scare tactics alone do little to stop unsafe behavior in the workplace as everyone feels that they do things in a safe way... until they have an accident or are injured.

Rules and policies are a crucial first step to a safe environment, but a system that makes people want to comply with those rules is the key to creating a safety culture.  Behavior-based safety systems, if set up correctly, do provide a much needed answer.

For more on how to create a "culture of safe habits," read Removing Obstacles to Safey: A Behavior-Based Approach by my colleague Judy Agnew.


Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.