The Price of Safety: New IIHS report applies public health theory to mobile phone use behind the wheel

Toronto, Ontario — Taking some pages from the books of public health theory, a new report from the IIHS details a holistic, social approach to curbing the deadly consequences of distracted driving.

Using what is called the Health Belief Model, one of the co-authors of the IIHS’s latest report, Aimee E. Cox, developed about 60 questions to gauge the perception of threat among drivers regarding the use of mobile phones behind the wheel.

“The Health Belief Model has been very useful in guiding disease-screening and immunization programs for many years,” said Cox.

“It can also be an effective way to better understand distracted driving—which is a public health issue of another kind.”

While the report found most drivers to be well aware of the risks posed by distracted driving, certain subsets of the population, namely parents and gig workers, like rideshare and delivery drivers, report that despite the added danger, having access to their phone while driving is essential for work or parenting.

Acknowledging that the hard-nosed approach of stronger laws and steeper fines does play its part in reducing distracted driving, the IIHS suggests that a softer touch may make the bigger difference in certain cases.

“Conventional, practical policy interventions that increase your chances of getting caught using your device when you shouldn’t—whether that means stronger laws, increased enforcement or camera-based ticketing—definitely have a big role to play in reducing distracted driving,” said Cox.

“But these survey responses suggest that programs that leverage interpersonal relationships may also be effective.”

The report points to efforts made by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute and its Drive Smart agreement—a series of programs involving parents and teens focused on safe driving habits, which the IIHS says has already shown significant promise.

Additionally, automakers are responding to this concern surrounding mobile phone use with the increased prevalence of Do Not Disturb features on vehicles.

These features can block notifications from coming to the phone while the vehicle is in motion, however, many include the ability to simply opt out, effectively negating what is quickly proving to be a vital safety feature.

Obviously, around here collisions are our business, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still look toward a future where collision repair and grief don’t have to cross paths.

Click here for the IIHS’s full “Applying the Health Belief Model to mobile device distracted driving” report.


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