Washington, Feb 28 (IANS): Most of us tend to believe that we can safely manage to use our mobile phone while driving, despite knowing that it is dangerous.
Distracted driving results in thousands of fatalities and hundreds of thousands of injuries each year.
Texting while driving is a menace.
But drivers can be discouraged from the practice with public service announcements that evoke their fear of death in graphic terms, say researchers at Washington State University.
WSU marketing professors Ioannis Kareklas and Darrel Muehling examined various ways to discourage texting while driving through public service announcements, or PSAs.
The researchers cite a National Safety Council estimate that distracted cell phone use accounts for more than one-fourth of all traffic accidents, with as many as 200,000 stemming specifically from texting while driving.
There is also evidence suggesting that texting while driving may be addictive, said Kareklas.
The researchers focused on young drivers, who have been singled out as more likely to text and drive than older drivers.
In an exploratory study using a nationally representative sample of 357 drivers between 18 and 49 years old, one-fourth of them tried to rationalise their behaviour.
"I only glance long enough to read a word or two, look at the road, glance again, and so on," said one respondent. "This isn't that dangerous."
"I use one hand to text and one hand to drive," said another, "so I maintain control of the car."
The findings were reported in the Journal of Consumer Affairs.
In a second study, they first had undergraduate students identify five symbols of death and found that the skull-and-crossbones symbol was much more common than crosses, coffins and tombstones, among others.
A second group of students overwhelmingly said the image reminded them of death.
The researchers then had a new national sample of online participants view four different PSAs.
All had a picture of a texting driver, the headline, "Texting While Driving: A Dangerous Combination" and ad copy saying, "Please don't text and drive."
One added text saying texting and driving kills 3,000 people a year, one added a skull
and crossbones, and a third ad had both the extra text and image.
Kareklas and Muehling found that young people exposed to the PSAs with the skull and crossbones imagery "reported significantly lower attitudes and intentions to text and drive".
The findings, they said, "suggest that the use of promotional campaigns featuring relatively strong emotional references to death/dying may be an effective persuasive technique".