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TWIT Spotting: San Francisco billboards put texting and driving on blast

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A billboard in San Francisco features images of distracted drivers. (Brian Singer/TWIT Spotting)

Nearly a dozen billboards scattered throughout San Francisco feature only telling photographs of drivers with smartphones in hand.

They are not advertisements but rather, photographs of real distracted drivers, snapped by Brian Singer, who is the brains behind TWIT Spotting, which aims to raise awareness and crack down on distracted driving, in particular, texting at the wheel.

The blog and billboards, spotlighting drivers using smartphones, were born out of his daily commute, in which he would observe distracted drivers while travelling in a carpool, the graphic artist says.

"It sort of blew my mind how many people were actually driving distracted, doing something with their phone or applying makeup," he told CBC News Community.

"The frequency of it was so great so I wanted to do something about it," he said. "I wanted to let other people know just how rampant it is because I don't think people realize exactly how common it is." 

TWIT (Texting While In Traffic) Spotting went live in February but billboards throughout San Francisco, plastered with photographs taken by Singer (as a passenger), went up recently. 

"If you drive [101 Freeway] everyday and you look at the freeway and you see photos of your fellow drivers who are driving 101 on a billboard, that's just a really fascinating moment of recognition and hopefully, awareness for people."

Singer paid for the billboards out of his own pocket, he says, but he did reach out to organizations tackling distracted driving and is hopeful for a partnership to move TWIT Spotting forward in the future.

He would not specify the exact cost, saying he does not want to shift focus to the price tag, but says it is "in the thousands" and he was able to get discounted rates by using billboards in between bookings. 

The intent of TWIT Spotting is not to "bash" these drivers, despite great emphasis online on the "public-shaming" part of it, Singer says.

"I think we've all had those moments, or at least most of us have, and can relate so this isn't in any way to bash on people."

"It is mostly to show the frequency of it and to get people aware and hopefully, more self-conscious so they think twice before trying to answer that text or look at their email while commuting."

Privacy of the photographed drivers is also an often-cited viewpoint and Singer says he is aware of the concern.

"I'm not a lawyer so I don't know that people driving along the freeway have an expectation of privacy, the same way they would in the comfort of their own home," he said.

"But I think it's important to know that the intent here is not against any of these people."

He added that he is yet to encounter any of the subjects of his photographs.

On the blog, TWIT Spotting encourages submissions from other passengers or pedestrians who spot texting and driving or other forms of distracted driving such as applying makeup or reading a newspaper, and offers tips to snap a solid picture.

"You can't take photos while you're driving. That's just stupid," the blog reads.

Right now, the blog features photos only taken by Singer but he is sifting through submissions and says he is grappling with how to verify its content.

For now, he says, his objective is to shift behaviour.

"If I can change some behaviour or people start shifting their behaviour; if just one life is saved, if one accident is prevented, then I think it is all worthwhile."

Distracted driving is receiving increasing attention. Recently, a Toronto police officer was dressed in plain-clothes with a cardboard sign at an intersection, in an effort to nab distracted drivers, according to the Toronto Star.

In February, Toronto police used a hearse to remind drivers of the serious ramifications distracted driving could entail.

What do you think of TWIT Spotting? Do you think it is effective? Why or why not? What sort of distracted driving campaigns exist in your community? 

Tags: Distracted Driving, Reaction, San Francisco, Smartphone, Social Media, Texting, TWIT Spotting

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