In the zeal surrounding the midterm elections, politicians are working tirelessly to get their particular message out utilizing all media available to energize voters. This is democracy in action, which I fully support. But, unfortunately, amid the frenzy it is especially critical not to short-change important messages about public health. Undermining safe driving can’t be acceptable collateral damage to delivering any plea, last-minute or otherwise.
I just came across the Beto O’Rourke, candidate for U.S. Senate in Texas, latest twitter ad on my feed. In it, he is actively driving while making his pitch on what appears to be a main highway- turning his head back and forth away from the road to the passenger seat for extended periods. This is the first of this type I have seen, but my message regarding the hazards of distracted driving is resolute regardless of political party or entertainment value, life stage or occupation and beyond. Driving while recording is becoming a thing, albeit with the popular carpool Karoake with James Corden for example and now this.
While entertainment spheres may use green screens and otherwise to mimic actual driving, it is unclear whether that is the case and, even if it is, responsible messaging doesn’t have to deplete laughter or lack educational value. These realities can mutually co-exist.
There is great misperception surrounding what is required to distract drivers from the road. Drugged driving is a perfect example. Many believe substances used over-the-counter are less dangerous than illicit or prescription which is a flawed assumption. And the trends are so disturbing Congress recently held a much-needed hearing to examine the rise in drug-impaired driving and accompanying fatalities (to review in greater detail read here). Tiger Woods is not alone when he found himself in a precarious state last year with his arrest for drugged driving (see here and here).
When it comes to distracted driving, this is how the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines it:
“Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system—anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving. Texting is the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed. You cannot drive safely unless the task of driving has your full attention. Any non-driving activity you engage in is a potential distraction and increases your risk of crashing.”
These are the consequences:
“In 2016 alone, 3,450 people were killed. 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015. During daylight hours, approximately 481,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving. That creates enormous potential for deaths and injuries on U.S. roads. Teens were the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes.”
Those in the public eye are given a wonderful opportunity to lead by example and make such a significant issue center stage. When it comes to avoidable injuries like those associated with distracted driving and the devastation it can cause, it is so powerful for anyone with a platform like Beto O’Rourke to highlight where we can all do better. This could be a tremendous chance to shine a light on a problem most people have been guilty of to some degree.
Let this instance serve as a constructive reminder to all of us to drive safely. No text, song or video is worth the distraction. We can all do better.