Lexus Makes a Point About Distracted Driving

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

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.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • FreedMike FreedMike on Apr 13, 2021

    Yeah, this is a problem, and it can be dangerous as hell. My kid got rear-ended last fall by some dumba** teenager who was screwing around on her phone. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the idiot managed to total out my faithful old Buick. Well done, kid. I don't have a problem with sending and receiving texts while you're driving, as long as your face isn't planted in your phone. Given the equipment in modern cars, there isn't much excuse for doing this - if your car has Android Auto or Apple Car Play, you can receive and dictate texts verbally without looking at your phone, and doing so doesn't take any longer than it would to change a radio station or change your HVAC settings. If you don't have that equipment, you can also dictate texts and have them read to you using your smartwatch (which I do). This can all be done with minimal distraction. The bigger issue, I think, is that as we get more and more apps in our cars that have nothing to do with texting, the distractions will just get more severe. It's one thing to get a text saying "hey, I'm on my way," and another to run into a bus full of kids while you were trying to order sandwich from Panera with extra olives.

  • Sgeffe Sgeffe on Apr 13, 2021

    Something from Lexus worth watching! Unlike the dumba— IS500 ad that plays with every load of a page on this site, doesn’t load into the browser cache, and can even break through an ad blocker!

    • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Apr 13, 2021

      @sgeffe, • In AdBlock, select "Hide something on this page" • In AdBlockPlus, select "Block specific element on this website" It will stay hidden even after you clear cookies.

  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.
  • NotMyCircusNotMyMonkeys dudes off the rails on drugs and full of hate and retribution. so is musky.