Last week, Lexus launched a viral marketing campaign — that also makes for an excellent public service announcement — about how stupid it is to check your phone while driving. But it has only just started getting the kind of attention it deserves, now that some of the contentious regulatory news has subsided.
The automaker modified a Lexus NX crossover with an electrochromic film that can totally obfuscate the glass for 4.6 seconds — which is the average length of time a person looks at their phone while driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It then invited people to take the car for a “test drive” while it made a point about distracted driving. While an overt publicity stunt, it was rather effective and addresses one of our biggest concerns in terms of automotive safety. Lexus simply showcased a bunch of morons with phones in an interesting way, highlighted the danger, and then got off its podium.
There wasn’t even time taken to smugly suggest the brand’s advanced driving aids would help mitigate the risks of inattentive motoring, representing an uncommon amount of good taste within the industry.
The people in the video are another story, however. Most admitted to texting while driving in advance, outing themselves as human garbage. With smartphone integration and the speaker option, there’s really no reason a person would ever need to look down at their phone while driving. Texts can be handled when the trip is over and calls can be imitated during a stop. However, in lieu of advocating for more punitive driving laws, your author has come to embrace notifying habitually distracted motorists that they are idiots in the most self-satisfying ways available.
This was also the route Lexus took in the “Driving Disrupted” spot (below).
While the buzzword-reliant title wasn’t so great, seeing Lexus interview a series of chuckling people confessing they constantly look at their phones only to suddenly blind them for 4.6 seconds of seated terror felt genuinely rewarding. The only way it could have been improved was if a Lexus technician had to let them out of the NX and used the opportunity to sternly ask them if they still thought distracted driving was funny. Instead, the automaker kept the post-interview relatively friendly. But it seems that the people hired for the commercial/PSA learned the intended lesson without the extra prodding or even a follow-up blinding scare on the way out of the testing grounds.
Lexus also included a few scenes with the National Security Council’s Alex Epstein, who shared some data from the NHTSA. The organization has been getting increasingly conscious of distracted driving and, even though we’re not enthralled by all of its proposed solutions, it’s an excellent resource and estimates the number of U.S. road fatalities contributed by distracted driving is around 10 percent of our annual total. That’s over 3,000 people killed per year because someone refused to keep their eyes on the road, though some safety groups claim the figure is probably much higher.
Unfortunately, we don’t know how much this does other than build awareness of the problem. Automakers are still outfitting vehicles with tablets that demand quite a bit more of a driver’s attention than the basic radios equipped in older vehicles. There’s also reason to believe the industry wants to leverage the new technology for data-driven marketing opportunities that probably aren’t going to make people safer behind the wheel.