This month, some residents of San Francisco could discover photographs of themselves engaging in rather embarrassing behavior. A website has been collecting photos of people texting while driving, and some of those photos have now found their way onto billboards throughout the region.
The project, called Texting While in Traffic (TWIT) is the brainchild of San Francisco graphic designer Brian Singer, who agreed to relinquish his anonymity after we got in touch with him for Gizmodo. Singer began the project after he recently started commuting along the 101 Freeway, where he couldn't believe how often he saw drivers on their phones. "I've been blown away by the number of people texting while in traffic, on the freeway," he says. "For every nose picker, there's 20 texters. Unofficial estimation by me."
Singer collected his images of texting drivers at a website, which includes stats about distracted driving and encourages readers to engage in "TWIT Spotting" by sending their photos as well. (Singer assures me that he is a passenger, not a driver, when he takes the photos, and requires that contributors are as well.) The billboards—which have no copy on them whatsoever—will hopefully show drivers in a very public way that they're being watched... and judged.
The photos themselves are eerily voyeuristic and somewhat horrifying. Even though texting while driving has been proven to be dangerous and is definitely illegal—it can carry a minimum $76 fine in California—it's disturbing to see how many people are still doing it so blatantly.
Will the photos shame people into changing their behavior? Singer thinks so. "My hope is that it will freak some people out and make them think twice before picking up the phone while driving," he says. "My greater hope is that it inspires others to start taking photos, too. If enough people started doing this, it could have a dramatic affect on people's behavior."
Perhaps the project will inspire a posse of anti-texting vigilantes who not only submit their photos to be collected on the site, but also post them to Instagram with the hashtag #twit. (And what a fitting hashtag that is.)
While publishing some photos on a website might be an effective way to get attention, putting a person's likeness on a giant billboard on the street suddenly changes the game—and it also raises some interesting questions about privacy. "I don't think people driving on 101 have the expectation of privacy," says Singer. "I could be wrong, but the police need to be able to see them using phones and breaking the law, so all I'm really doing is taking photos in a public place."
While I agree with Singer's assessment, I also wonder if any of these people will recognize themselves and take action against the project. Either way, I think it's a pretty effective campaign.
Singer contacted some distracted driving organizations to try and pay for the billboards, but ended up funding them himself. One of those groups would be smart to snatch up his idea and keep the momentum going. These 11 billboards are currently up throughout San Francisco through early April, which just so happens to be Distracted Driver Awareness Month. [Texting While In Traffic]