Don't text, just dance: Upbeat campaign prompts serious conversations about distracted driving

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SALT LAKE CITY — What do a troop of groovy stormtroopers and a dance called "The Wookiee" have to do with texting and driving?


But the team behind a new online campaign hopes its goofy pledge videos will get drivers thinking about their phone habits behind the wheel.

Launched just before Thanksgiving by the newly formed Coalition to End Distracted Driving, the Star Wars-themed End Text Wrecks campaign aims to use the viral sharing power of dance-battle videos on social media to raise awareness about distracted driving.

Participants pledge not to text and drive by recording themselves dancing "The Wookiee," challenging their friends at the end of the video to do the same, and then uploading the video to

The website offers downloadable music for the videos as well as instructions on doing the dance, a combination of simple arm movements and hip thrusting followed by some freestyle moves.

The campaign kicked off with a video, now approaching 300,000 views, of some stormtroopers texting and driving, which gets them into a fender bender with a car full of Princess Leias. The accident, of course, sparks a dance battle in the Salt Lake City streets, attended by local law enforcement.

Todd Noall, who founded the coalition, hopes the lighthearted tone of "Pledge Wars" helps the campaign spread, bringing with it the commitment not to text and drive.

"I'm sure as you've been driving around you've seen what I've seen. People are texting, they're moving in and out of lanes, and in my opinion it's an epidemic," Noall said. "The way to stop that is not just enforcement, it's education."

Noall became converted to the effort when his advertising agency, Fusion 360, began working with Robert J. Debry and Associates' campaigns against drunk and distracted driving. He was stunned, he said, by statistics about how dangerous something like sending a simple text message behind the wheel can be, and he started thinking about his own experience being hit by a distracted driver.

"I was sitting at a stoplight, and I was hit by a texter … going about 30 mph," Noall said. "I have two small baby girls … The officer noticed the car seats in the back and said, 'You're so lucky you didn't have those little baby girls in the car.' It would have been really bad."

Many believe their ability to multitask means a quick text or email doesn't impact their driving, but the website provides a long list of statistics suggesting the opposite, Noall says.

Texting is six times more likely to lead to an accident than drunken driving, according to the list of facts, and in the average five seconds it takes a driver to take their eyes off the road to text, a vehicle going 55 mph can travel the length of a football field.

"Our hope is that people are seeing those (distracted driving) stats," Noall said.

"More than anything else, we want people to know that if they text and drive, they can be the cause of changing somebody's life. Not only as the cause of an accident, a fender bender, but that people are dying because of texting and driving," he said.

Actors portray stormtroopers in a video by the Coalition to End Distracted Driving, part of campaign about the dangers of texting behind the wheel. (Photo: YouTube)
Actors portray stormtroopers in a video by the Coalition to End Distracted Driving, part of campaign about the dangers of texting behind the wheel. (Photo: YouTube)

Russ Witt, chief technical officer at Robert J. Debry, said the personal injury firm sees the repercussions of distracted driving on a daily basis.

"A lot of different faces and a lot of different people walk through the door, and you get really attached to some of these people," Witt said.

As the number of the firm's clients injured in texting wrecks climbed, guests at an annual luncheon with Mothers Against Drunk Driving voiced their growing concern about phones behind the wheel, he said.

"They raised our level of awareness, and coupled with the injuries and the tragedies that come through our door in doing this business, we knew we had to do something," Witt said.

Though the firm at times faces cynicism for its efforts, which if successful would essentially reduce the number of potential clients, Witt says the message is too important not to share. The “Pledge Wars” campaign, he said, is a new attempt to get people talking.

"It's such a dry topic and a serious topic (that) you don't want to talk about it. You have to create a reason to talk about it," Witt said.

So far, just under 200 pledge videos have been uploaded, Noall said, with new videos trickling in daily.

Some of the first videos came from Utah law enforcement — including Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, Attorney General Sean Reyes, and the Salt Lake City and Unified police departments — who enthusiastically agreed to lend their resources and their dance moves to the campaign.

"Support from local law enforcement has been overwhelming," Noall said, noting that those who've participated did so as volunteers.

Members of the Salt Lake Police Department dance "The Wookiee," part of a campaign by the Coalition to End Distracted Driving about the dangers of texting behind the wheel. (Photo: YouTube)
Members of the Salt Lake Police Department dance "The Wookiee," part of a campaign by the Coalition to End Distracted Driving about the dangers of texting behind the wheel. (Photo: YouTube)

"The Wookiee" dance videos have also been made by dance teams at the University of Utah and BYU, Utah mascots and Provo Mayor John Curtis.

Campaign organizers also said the first 700 people to take the pledge by recording and posting their Wookiee dance on the website will receive two free tickets to the opening weekend of "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story."

A new version of the pledge is also in the works, giving pledgers the option to promise not to text and drive by calling up participating local radio stations and recording their best Wookiee roar.

The initial "Pledge Wars" campaign is just the first effort for the coalition, both Noall and Witt said. In what Witt says could be a push lasting a few years, there are plans for additional promotional efforts, entertaining but educational programs for schools, and research about distracted driving in the state.

"As long as there is interest from law enforcement and interest in the community where people are willing to hear the message, we'll keep going with it," Witt said.


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