Distracted Driving – why is the message not getting through?

by | Sep 26, 2014 | Commentary

I admit it. I’m an inveterate gear-head. I’m also disturbed. No, not that kind of disturbed. Disturbed as a PR practitioner. I love driving. If it has wheels and a motor, I’ve either driven it, raced it or reported on someone else racing it. And I’m disturbed because distracted drivers don’t seem to be getting the message, despite all the media coverage. I just watched some clown in an SUV drive right through a red light, phone to his ear, on a busy Toronto thoroughfare. When a pedestrian attempting to cross with the light raised his fist in protest, the driver used the only hand he had on the wheel to give the pedestrian the finger.

Distracted driving now accounts for more deaths than alcohol-related collisions.  Back in the 80s there was a concerted campaign from a number of sources to raise awareness of the perils of drinking and driving.  It had an effect. Drinking drivers have become social pariahs. Some still do it, but the incidences have dropped and along with them the death toll. What do we need to do to get the same social response to distracted driving?

Stiffer penalties will help, but we need more. Real change comes from the pressure from multiple sources. Unlike the campaign in the 80s, we now have a bigger and better weapon at our disposal. It’s called social media.

If we’re going to make a dent in the problem and save some dents in the sheet metal, social media has got to be the conduit and the pressure has to come from a variety of sources.  There is no equivalent to MADD for distracted driving and the mobile industry has just recently become active in the fight but they’re not loud enough. The real pressure has to come from everyone.  When someone calls you from their car, tell them to call back when they’ve reached their destination. But most of all, start with yourself. When you get in the car, turn your phone off and encourage others to do the same.  Then you won’t be running red lights and you won’t get a fist shaking from me. Oh, did I mention that angry pedestrian was me?

Paul Chater is a Partner and in charge of PR at Marshall Fenn.

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