Sunday, August 16, 2009
Another fatality because a teen was distracted when she was looking for her iPod.
With all the anti-drug, anti-peer pressure messages, something needs to be done about distracted driving. This is mostly a teen problem, but everyone else who can’t seem to focus needs to be targeted too.
Ad Council PSAs with laughing teens distracting the driver aren’t enough.
While the insight may be true, it doesn’t go far enough. Having had two teenagers get their licenses in NJ, state laws there limit the number of teens they could drive with and when for just this reason.
Distracted driving is more than loud friends though.
Parents on cell phones. Businessman speeding up, then slowing down in front of you because they’re on a call. Train conductors texting. Then of course, there’s teens.
The real problem seems to me to be when they’re driving alone, not just when their friends are all in the car “laughing.” A recent Car and Driver study even shows that texting may have more of an effect on reaction time than alcohol does.
Two other equally important mindsets to address also: Teen invincibility and denial. It’s not that teens think they’ll live forever, it’s that safety is not always first on the list. Denial kicks in when they see a PSA on traffic safety and go “That’ll never happen to me.”
If the Department of Transportation is serious about addressing the problem, it needs to better understand the reasons behind it. You might look at the explosive growth of technology and the growing number of cell phones among teens as the culprit. More people using more phones will naturally result in more accidents.
Well, it’s more than that.
The ad industry has spent way too much time and money reinforcing the notion of multitasking teens being a good thing, either in ads or in the generic research it uses to create those ads.
So much so that teens have carried this mindset over to their driving habits. If you think changing a radio station is no different or any more distracting than looking down at a cell phone, you haven’t had a close call yet.
I’ve never come close to driving off the road just because I changed a station.
So I suggest a threefold approach:
1) Advertising and PR.
A massive ad campaign sponsored by the wireless industry similar to the way big tobacco was forced to change its ads (wishful thinking, I know).
Call the message Ignore It or Turn It Off.
Whatever. Ignore the call, the dropped iPod, the loud friend. The underlying message has to be that it’s not worth dying over, no matter who’s calling. Yes, it needs to be equated with death, and yes, it needs to be everywhere. Schools. Sporting events. TV and radio. Everywhere.
Imagine the creative: Crash scene in background with body bag visible and focus on still-active cell phone, incoming Lol! from a friend. *cue awards!*
I hardly doubt the wireless industry would be see a drop in sales over doing something responsible. Nokia could afford to give a little, considering they own 40% of the market. Just pass the cost along to consumers, the way the TSA passes a security fee along to drivers who rent cars.
Or maybe police reports should start including the brand of cell phone found on the body. Bet the industry would love that PR.
Forget banning iPods. Cops could get their monthly quotas in one day in any mall parking lot if the fine for texting actually meant something. $100 in NJ? It’s a joke. Current fines aren’t doing anything and enforcement is just as bad. You see officers talking on cells while driving all the time.
Why not instead make it $5 or even $10 thousand per incident. Maybe a suspended license and cell phone ban from any provider for 6 months. If it’s more of a distraction than DUI, and we keep framing the debate in those terms, why not treat it as such?
Would someone be able to pay a $100 fine for DUI and continue on their way?
There’s always going to be that group of people who ignore your message, so you just have to take care of it for them.
While GPS tracking is enabled only in the case of a 911 call, and while not every carrier employs it yet, the technology still exists to track a phone’s position. They have it for LoJacked cars. For dogs. For employees.
Disable phones automatically when driving, unless it’s for emergency purposes. The second a cell tower triangulates a unit’s position and sees that it’s moving, the signal for data transmission is disabled—without killing the entire unit.
(The technical execution of this is up for discussion, I’m just framing a general solution here. I also realize that if this were doable, it renders moot the first two points because then you have no choice, and nobody has to convince you via TV commercial. In that case, it becomes just another product footnote in the cell phone’s brochure: Unit will not operate when vehicle is in motion.)
Use Google to coordinate positions with the street grid so that people in buildings and such are ignored. Punching in 911 activates the system.
Don’t whine that there are too many phones to track. Cottage industries always spring up over initiatives like this. New tech would likely be developed, and besides, IBM would sell a lot more servers.
Unless you address the problem of distracted driving with more than a PSA, nothing will change, except the number of teen funerals. Dramatic? Sure. Got a better idea? Let’s hear it.
Otherwise, what else is working?
UPDATE: As intense and realistic as the post-crash scenes are in this UK piece are, the actual crash and its Jason vs. Freddie histrionics aren’t enough. I guarantee that kids will see this stuff and think they’re invincible. But hey, it’ll win awards.