Why are they Snapchatting while driving, and what will get them to stop?

By Robbie Webber

A study from Australia gives some insights into use of social media while driving, looking not just at the incidence, but also what deters the behavior. But while the study began as a general look at use of all social media by young drivers, it ended up focused on the use of Snapchat as the most common mobile phone behavior in the car.

The authors concluded that legal sanctions were not enough of a deterrent to change behavior, because most study participants felt the chances of getting caught were small. However, those who had friends who had been caught were less likely to use Snapchat while driving. Many participants also self-regulated their use, either by using it only in less dangerous situations—at stop lights, while on lightly traveled roads, or when stopped—or didn’t use any social media at all while driving because of perceived dangers to themselves and others.

Both of these findings led the authors to believe that stricter enforcement was less likely to deter unsafe behavior than campaigns aimed at building a movement against the use of mobile devices while driving.

But why was Snapchat the dominant social media use while driving? The authors mention that just a few years ago research found that Facebook was the most commonly used social media, whereas study participants now report an almost total lack of Facebook use during driving. Snapchat allows young drivers to show both their driving behavior and environments. It also offers a filter that records the speed while driving. Since the study focused on driver age 17-25, these options may have been particularly appealing.

The study offers a long discussion of the social theory of deterrence possibly employed to change mobile phone use by young drivers. However, given that the chances of getting caught are low, legal deterrence was rated ineffective. Peer attitudes and general social mores were considered more likely to change behavior.

Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.