The Social Problem of Texting and Driving: Analysis via a Criminological and Public Health Lens

Author: Hannah Wilk
Major: Criminal Justice
Approved: Fall 2019
Status: In progress

Society can point to driving under the influence and other reckless behaviors behind the wheel as clearly wrong; these behaviors are understood to be a danger not only to the driver, but to anyone they may encounter during the course of their drive. However, the relatively novel behavior of texting and driving has puzzled law enforcement, public health officials, and criminologists all the same. Is texting and driving a deviant and dangerous behavior, and if so, how can it be controlled?

These are questions I began to answer in the spring of 2019 during my research methods class, and the preliminary results I found were startling. Based on focus group research, I found that while college students understand the danger inherent in distracted driving, they all agreed that nothing could be done to curb their behavior short of being personally involved in a car accident. The current project will examine the issue of texting and driving from two distinct angles in the social sciences: deviant behavior theory in criminology, and theories from the field of public health.

I plan to expand on my prior research by conducting a campus-wide survey and holding a second focus group to better understand both this behavior, and possible ways to reduce its occurrence.  Additionally, I would like to develop a campaign of some sort to educate college students about the risks of texting and driving, and to offer suggestions for keeping one’s phone out of sight and out of mind when driving. The overall goal of this project is to heighten the public’s awareness of a behavior that is both seemingly ubiquitous, and viewed as relatively unproblematic, in an attempt to increase the safety of drivers and passengers on the road.