2014: The Year Mobile Kills More People, While We Sell More Ads

Our industry trades have been filled with predictions for the new year. One that caught my eye was from Google’s Eric Schmidt, who announced that in 2014 mobile “has won.”

Here is a prediction about mobile that will be more accurate than Schmidt’s, one that industry pundits will never share: In 2014, more people will die because of their mobile devices. 

According to various research studies reporting on prior years, one can sadly guess that roughly 30,000 people will lose their lives in a car crash in the United States in 2014. 2.4 million will be left seriously injured and/or disabled. 

A number harder to report is how many people not involved directly in these accidents will never be the same after them.  A number easier to identify: Roughly 25% of all car accidents in 2014 will be caused by drivers distracted by their mobile device.

How ironic we call them “smartphones,” when there is nothing dumber-looking than seeing drivers talking on the phone as if they were sitting at their desk and not behind the wheel of a 4,000-pound vehicle traveling 65 miles per hour. Dumb then melts into moronic when you see someone looking up and down frantically between the road and their phone, reading and responding to text messages while driving

I implore all of you reading to join me in a New Year’s resolution to turn our phones off before we get into our cars. Nope, not even “hands-free.” That’s not helping to eliminate the problem, as your eyes still dart away from the road to make and receive calls, and your mind wanders even further from the job at hand. I am talking about literally turning off your mobile devices as you enter your car, and turning them back on only when you get out. 

While many of you reading are nodding “not a chance,” how many of you nodding “yes” will fail to keep this resolution? A majority. New Year’s resolutions are generally broken and we are all addicted to our mobile devices (as Jeff Einstein has been saying for a long time now). 

Any doubts? Think about how many people turn their phones off in a movie theater, relative to how often they turn their phones off anywhere else (dinners, meetings, ballparks, soccer games, bedrooms, the car, etc.). The only time we universally agree to turn off the small screen in our hand is when we can look at a gigantic screen instead. And next time you're in a theater, look at the growing number of people who can no longer manage even to do that.

Mobile isn’t a just sector in the telecommunications business anymore. Figuratively, it's in the tobacco business, getting fat feeding off addictive behavior. Not buying the similarities? Those AT&T and Sprint ads telling us "don't text and drive” seem awfully similar to the ads cigarette companies have run telling us “don't smoke.”

Should the mobile advertising industry be condemned because it benefits monetarily from addictive consumer behavior? Is the industry responsible for contributing to the loss of lives? No, but this is new ground we’re covering -- no other prior media platform has ever been this statistically tied to the loss of human lives. Can we honestly go about our business of selling mobile ads and not own that we are helping fund this problem?

Tougher state laws against texting and driving have limited powers, since the highest percentage of accidents due to “mobile device distraction” come from making and receiving calls. A solution with any chance of making an impact can only come from those contributing to the problem. 

1.  Cell phone carriers: Forget about changing the addictive behavior of the driver -- and instead, shift the focus onto the recipient. Whether it’s a call or text, have a verbal or written message automatically included beforehand that announces, “This call (or text) has come from a moving vehicle.”

Now the recipient has to think about the ramifications of carrying on back and forth. No one in his or her right mind would hand a tequila shot to someone driving. With this feature, the recipient can now decide to end the communication before it starts (or at least shorten it dramatically).

If Sprint offered this feature today, every parent in the country would sign up his or her teenage driver for Sprint’s cell service tomorrow.

2.  Cell phone makers: If Apple supported this “feature,” every parent in-market for his teen-age child’s first smartphone would buy an iPhone.

3. Mobile publishers: #leadtheway #savelives. Facebook and Twitter, stop tweets and news feed updates from appearing when it is technologically assumed someone in a moving car is reading them.  Include a “disable feature,” like having someone type in a Captcha to prove he is not the one driving. 

If these behemoths lead, other publishers would follow.

4. Mobile advertisers: Stop supporting mobile with ad dollars until this problem is fervently addressed.

Pepsi, Subway, McDonald’s and hundreds of other brands won’t be negatively affected by not advertising on mobile devices -- and telling consumers why will earn unimaginable goodwill and positive PR.

5.  Mobile consumers: Spread the word and give this New Year’s resolution a chance to prevail. What are we really losing by turning our phones off while we are en route to wherever it is we are going?

Mobile can win so much more if the industry took a time-out and made sure winning no longer created unfathomable losses.

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9 comments about "2014: The Year Mobile Kills More People, While We Sell More Ads".
  1. Kenny Kurtz from creative license , January 9, 2014 at 12:55 p.m.
    Ari... I continue to like the way you think. Always forward looking, always with good conscience. A guy we used to work with at Newsweek, and that is now in the mobile game recently reached out to me so that I might recommend his company to my network. My reply to him was... Hey _____. Good luck with _______, but I cannot in good conscience make a mobile campaign recommendation to ANY local business owner. Aside from the whole "big brother" thing, I've seen the advent of mobile media do little more than collectively dumb down, and socially cripple our upcoming young... on top of that, mobile distraction is just getting downright dangerous (I fear it's on its way to resulting in more accidental slaughter, and death than drunk driving). I know I sound like a dinosaur (and I am, to some degree), but the last thing I want my mobile device doing is targeting me geographically so some jackwagon marketer can attempt to shake me by the scruff of my neck to separate me from my money.
  2. Erik Sass from mediapostpublications , January 9, 2014 at 1:09 p.m.
    I absolutely 100% agree with this, thank you for writing it. Smartphones are great but distracted driving is a plague. Considering the horrible potential consequences I don't see how anyone can even consider texting while driving etc. Surely it can wait 10 minutes! It's insane behavior, period.
  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , January 9, 2014 at 1:52 p.m.
    Here's a kicker: Car insurance won't guarantee coverage if at the time of an accident one is using a mobile device. Not only will the driver be financially responsible, but good luck getting insurance again which means public transportation. Game changer.
  4. Scott Hemmons from McKesson , January 9, 2014 at 2:09 p.m.
    Do people forget what it was like to be in a car accident before cell phones? Cell phones in cars increase response times and save lives.
  5. Esther Dyson from EDventure , January 9, 2014 at 7:08 p.m.
    Scott - he's not saying don't *carry* the phone in the car. He's saying don't use it while driving. (As a pedestrian/cyclist, I'm worried not just about the driver using while driving, but about him hitting me!
  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , January 9, 2014 at 7:18 p.m.
    Scott and others: cell phones are great to reduce problems AFTER and accident, not CAUSE them. Wake up.
  7. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2013ac.com network , January 10, 2014 at 5:28 p.m.
    It's great to see the sentence; "Nope, not even “hands-free.” Too many drivers think that talking hands-free eliminates the problem. It doesn't. Any distraction while driving is simply that, ... a distraction. Anything less than 100% concentration on driving increases the possibility of an accident. I recently saw a woman driving an SUV, cell phone in hand, coming into a corner way too fast. The SUV slowly rolled onto its side and slide into a parked car. I could see through the windshield that the woman was OK, ... and, I swear to God, ... still talking on her phone.
  8. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing, LLC , January 10, 2014 at 5:48 p.m.
    Thanks Chuck for adding an exclamation point to this column and thanks to everyone who took the time to read it, respond here on the boards, and share it with others. It's January 10th and I have not broken my resolution yet -- I don't drive every day mind you -- that will be a harder adjustment for folks who do but man does it need to happen -- it is simply CRAZY right now what is occurring on our roads.
  9. Kenny Kurtz from creative license , January 11, 2014 at 11:27 a.m.
    Not to stir the pot, be bigoted, or hateful... but Chuck's anecdote does not surprise me. Especially the parts about the cell-phone distracted driver of that rolled over SUV being a woman, and that she just kept right on yapping. Perhaps she was rolled over into a position where the phone could just naturally rest against her ear... it might take the "Jaws Of Life" to get her out then, so predisposed would she be to continue on in her distracted, conversational state. I have a nine mile commute to work here in Atlanta, and I've made a bit of sport out of counting the drivers that I pass that are on mobile phones. It's about 10 to 1... females to male. It's GOT to stop.