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Texting While Driving
Businesswoman using cell phone while driving Photograph by Inti St Clair—Getty Images/Blend Images

Feds Are Publicly Shaming Drivers Who Text

Apr 25, 2016

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is using a new tactic to target people who admit to texting and driving: public shaming.

Over the last several days, the Twitter (twtr) account for the NHTSA has turned into an endless stream of calling out Twitter users who appear to be texting and driving. Indeed, in the last hour, Fortune has watched several tweets hit the agency's timeline, asking Twitter users directly to #JustDrive.

"So you're putting yourself and others in danger," the NHTSA account tweeted to one Twitter user. "And that's something we can't accept. Please put down the phone and #justdrive."

Texting and driving has become of the more important initiatives for the NHTSA, which aims at improving traffic safety around the U.S., among other functions. Interspersed between its tweets at drivers, the agency has shared some statistics on texting and driving, including one that references its own study that found 73% of drivers between the ages of 18 and 20 have admitted to texting while driving.

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The NHTSA is among several agencies arguing that texting while driving has become a nationwide epidemic and could be causing a surprising spike in crashes.

“According to the National Safety Council car crash statistics spiked significantly this year and that is the first increase after ten years of steady decline,” said Deborah Becker, co-founder of the Distracted Operators Risk Casualties group, in a statement earlier this month. “Since drunk driving is down and today’s cars are built better than ever, the addition of mobile devices in our lives becomes the most likely reason for this sudden increase.”

The National Safety Council also said last year that cell phone related car collisions were up for the third consecutive year and accounted for a over 25% of all crashes nationwide.

In response to those concerns, New York lawmakers earlier this month introduced a bill that would arm law enforcement with a so-called "Textalyzer." Like a breathalyzer that determines whether a person has been drinking and driving, the Textalyzer would analyze whether a person was using a smartphone before a collision.

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If the law passes, the tool would be the first in the country to arm law enforcement with a way to tell whether a person has been texting and driving. However, it might not be the last: Cellebrite, the company that would provide the tool to police officers, says it could easily roll it out to other states if laws pass.

So far, however, not even the New York law has passed.

Meanwhile, the NHTSA is taking to Twitter to combat the problem. The agency appears to be actively seeking out users who say they're texting and driving and telling them to stop. So far, however, no one has responded negatively. In fact, one person thanked the NHTSA for the tip.

"Don't let an emoji wreck your life," the main image on the NHTSA's Twitter page reads. "If you're texting, you're not driving."

"It's Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and we're making sure people know about the dangers of driving while texting, snapping and swiping every way we can, short of sliding into their DMs," Bryan Thomas, NHTSA director of communications said in a statement. "We want drivers to put down their phones and #justdrive."

Update at 11:04 a.m. ET to include NHTSA's statement.

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