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Public Policy and Administration


Frances Goldman


Despite recent public policy initiatives limiting or banning forms of distracted driving resultant from cellular phone use, crashes remain on the rise. Individuals from the millennial generation, ages 16 to 35, appear to be most susceptible to distracted driving. Understanding the behaviors, attitudes, and habits of millennials is critical to developing effective policy for behavior change. A dual task ethnographic study framed by Skinner's theory of behavior modification and Maslow's hierarchy of needs motivational model, was used to investigate to what extent millennials feel public policy has influenced their driving, and if additional policy initiatives are required to deter distracted driving behavior. Two phases of inquiry, first, naturalistic observation, and then focus group were conducted at a commuter university. Distracted driving behaviors including hand held cellular phone use, eating, drinking, and passenger interaction of 100 drivers entering or exiting campus were observed, tracked, and analyzed using a researcher-developed tracking form. Eighty-four percent exhibited at least one distracted driving behavior. After which, 12 enrolled and licensed students, aged 18-35, were recruited via social media for two focus group discussions. Focus group data were inductively coded and analyzed using semantical attribution analysis. The students revealed that millennial drivers felt distracted driving policy did not address behaviors they see as worthy of intervention, they did not perceive that cellular phone use while driving posed a significant threat, and they felt current law was difficult to enforce with penalties they regarded as non-prohibitive. Social change implications include improved distracted driving public policy, which may result in driving behavior changes and a potential reduction of death, injury, and property loss.