WSU Marketing Professors' study Texting and Driving behaviors

PULLMAN, WA - For years, we've heard devastating stories and statistics about the dangers of texting and driving, but it's still fairly common to see people behind the wheel with their phone in hand.

Reporter Rachel Dubrovin tells us what researchers at Washington State University are doing to help curb this national issue.

We know that texting and driving can be dangerous, even fatal. But people do it anyway. We also know the ones who text behind the wheel the most are younger, less experienced drivers.

"They're really discounting the dangers, which is something that a lot of research has shown that young drivers tend to do," said WSU Assistant Professor of Marketing Loannis Kareklas. "They tend to feel like they're invincible, and feel like they can text and drive and get away with it."

Marketing professors at Washington State University have spent the last year studying texting and driving behaviors.

"A lot of public service announcements have aired for years now, but very little academic research has examined different conditions and different treatments," said Kareklas.

WSU Marketing Professors' Loannis Kareklas and Darrel Muehling conducted a national online study using more than 300 drivers from age 18 to 40.

"They rationalize their behavior, they said that they can text and drive safely," said Kareklas.

Kareklas and Muehling created this series of public service announcements to find out which one would be the most effective in getting the message across to drivers.

"Our work seems to show that using verbal or visual cues to death would be an effective strategy to deter young drivers," said Kareklas.

"Some people might think that what we wanted to use was some very graphic image of someone in an automobile accident, and we actually didn't do that," said Muehling. "We use symbolism."

The symbol they used was a skull and crossbones.

"We find that it tends to bring images of death, or thought of death," said Muehling.

Kareklas and Muehling found the simplicity of symbolism, and the thought of fatality help get the message across, and young people exposed to this PSA reported significantly lower intentions to text and drive.

"We at least have some optimistic reasons to believe that we can change people's attitudes and intentions with this technique," said Muehling.

"There's a lot more work that needs to be done, both academic research and actual practical applications, but I think it's a useful starting point that we can build on," said Kareklas.

A lot more work needs to be done to fight this national problem. But in the meantime, when you get behind the wheel, remember to put that phone down.

More than 40 states, including Washington and Idaho, have laws against texting and driving. But research by the Highway Data Loss Institute found this may increase the danger because drivers may try and move their phones down and out of sight to avoid being caught.