Will Publicly Shaming Drivers Who Text Save Lives?

Twits who are guilty of TWIT (texting while in traffic) can really make your blood boil. But what can you actually do about these drivers who are putting your life in danger? Join San Francisco artist Brian Singer’s quest to shame the menaces, for one. He’s heading up an ongoing project that takes photos of the offenders in action (snapped only by passengers or pedestrians, of course), and posts them on Facebook and this blog. As of this month, he has been blowing them up and paying to have them slapped on billboards.

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“It’s nothing against the people themselves. I think we’re all sort of guilty of texting and driving at some point,” Singer tells Yahoo Shine. His aim is to grow the project to the point where it could both raise awareness and “change behavior.”

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Singer’s other social commentary projects over the years have focused on topics from homelessness to war; in 2000, he started the ongoing “1,000 Journals Project,” a collaborative experiment attempting to follow 1,000 journals on their travels, which has since gone global and been expanded into both a book and a documentary. TWIT, he says, was born out of his own observations of distracted drivers during his daily Bay Area commutes as a passenger, either in a carpool or on a shuttle, to his job as a graphic artist. “I started seeing how much texting was going on the freeway and it sort of blew my mind,” he says. “For every nose picker, I would see 20 people texting.”

Thus far, Singer has spent his own money to fund the 11 billboards with the photos he’s snapped. “It’s not cheap,” he admits, though he has been taking advantage of last-minute vacancies to negotiate lower rates. (He wouldn't disclose exact figures.) Singer’s hoping to attract agencies that are interested in preventing distracted driving to help fund the project, and he’s been encouraging other observers (passengers only, he stresses) to submit photos to the collection. “It can be difficult to get a good photo when cars are moving different speeds, so be patient and keep at it,” he writes on the TwitSpotting website. “The more of us out there documenting, the more behavior will change.”

The slowly growing collection lets you scroll through a chilling collection of TWIT drivers, with equally disturbing titles, including “One Hand on Phone. One Hand on Chin,” “Eyes on the Phone,” and “Two-Handed.” The billboards, meanwhile — most of them 10-by-20 feet and one that's 10-by-40 feet — show only the photos with no accompanying text. That's because they speak for themselves.

Singer also includes foreboding data, much of it collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. For example, approximately 660,000 people are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices at any given daylight moment while driving — and that number has held steady since 2010. Also, texting — as well as dialing a cell phone or even just reaching for something — increases a driver's risk of crashing by three times. Singer also includes this scary nugget: Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds — the equivalent of driving the length of an entire football field, blind, at 55 mph.

“Close your eyes and count for 5 seconds,” the website suggests. “Now, imagine driving 55 miles per hour with your eyes closed that long. Scary, right? We think so.” Singer hopes that everyone else — including drivers who see his billboards — will agree and put their phones down once and for all.

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