For Transportation Safety, Words Matter: ‘Crash,’ not ‘Accident’

It was nearly 20 years ago that I was sitting in a meeting and a Washington State DOT co-worker stopped me cold. I was describing an incident on a local highway that was snarling traffic, and my colleague interrupted my report.

“It’s ‘crash’ not ‘accident,'” he said. “We should never use ‘accident’ when describing crashes.”

I’m sure that I rolled my eyes. After all, I was the former journalist. I worked with media every day. I knew more about language that this guy. What was the big deal?

But in reality, he was right and his lesson stuck with me. “Accident” implies some kind of unavoidable randomness had a hand in the incident. Yet, in nearly every story behind the more than 34,000 annual highway fatalities, there is a cause. Those deaths were avoidable. Randomness? Perhaps. But certainly few were truly accidents.

While my co-worker’s lesson took place many years ago, the casualness with which most of us toss out the word “accident” is the focus of a new video by the Michigan DOT. The minute-long animated video makes the case that everyone who drives should take responsibility for their actions.

Michigan DOT is not alone. Safety advocates have argued for years that words matter and that we should not dismiss the carnage on our highways as simple accidents. The words we use help frame the way in which we see things.

Hopefully we’ll all heed the latest lesson from Michigan DOT, that actions (behind the wheel) matter too.

Driver Alert: Humor Highlights Award-Winning Virginia PSA

Each year, the AASHTO Committee on Transportation Communications known as TransComm, hands out awards to state DOTs for outstanding communication, advertising and marketing campaigns and tactics.

One of the 2019 honorees, a public service announcement produced by the Virginia Department of Transportation, used humor to capture drivers’ attention and raise awareness for an annual challenge.

Virginia DOT used humor to remind motorists to watch out for deer.

During deer mating season, drivers have a much higher chance of encountering deer in the roadway, especially during dawn and dusk when visibility is lessened.

According to the VDOT award entry, more than 60,000 vehicle crashes involving deer took place last year. VDOT posted the PSA on Facebook, reaching more than 99,800 users. The 30-second video was shared 652 times on Facebook. It’s been viewed more than 24,000 times.

Congratulations to VDOT for using humor to highlight a serious safety issue for drivers.

Colorado DOT’s ‘Ballpark Guessing’ Aims to Get Everyone Safely Home

The difference between outstanding and blah sometimes comes in subtle ways. In this powerful video posted recently by the Colorado Department of Transportation, the excellence is obvious – if you look.

The video takes place at a baseball stadium. The host interviews people, asking them how much alcohol they have consumed. Then, she asks each person whether they would be willing to drive. Then, she has them use a personal breathalyzer to test their blood alcohol level.

Continue reading “Colorado DOT’s ‘Ballpark Guessing’ Aims to Get Everyone Safely Home”

Oregon, Washington Take on Distracted Driving Epidemic with New Campaigns, Tougher Laws

798px-I-55_I-40_West_Memphis_AR_distracted_driving_warning_signIn Oregon, 75 percent of drivers admit to driving distracted. Nationally, at least that many drivers are eating, shaving, putting on makeup, texting, reading the newspaper … while driving a vehicle.

“As a culture I think we’re ready for a change,” said Tom Fuller, Oregon DOT communications manager, in a recent news release announcing a new statewide campaign there intended to help people drive more safely.

“The stories of deaths and injuries from distracted driving are as horrific as they are preventable,” Fuller added.

Continue reading “Oregon, Washington Take on Distracted Driving Epidemic with New Campaigns, Tougher Laws”

Reversing the Trend: How Will U.S. Reduce, Eliminate Fatal Traffic Crashes

UtahDOT
State transportation departments use message signs to encourage people to drive safely. In 2015, Utah began a “100 deadliest Days” effort to highlight how the summer driving season is traditionally the most dangerous.  Photo courtesy Utah DOT.

It was not much of a surprise to the people who work to make the nation’s transportation system safer when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released preliminary numbers showing traffic deaths had increased nearly 8 percent in 2015 to 35,200.

 

According to the official NHTSA news release, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, “We are analyzing the data to determine what factors contributed to the increase in fatalities and at the same time, we are aggressively testing new safety technologies, new ways to improve driver behavior, and new ways to analyze the data we have, as we work with the entire road safety community to take this challenge head-on.” Continue reading “Reversing the Trend: How Will U.S. Reduce, Eliminate Fatal Traffic Crashes”

Tuning In: Pokemon Go #Safety Message

Not every current event is appropriate for a transportation social media feed. But the folks at Washington State Department of Transportation continue to show off their deft ability to connect with their audiences by tying in with the latest Pokemon game.

Release July 7, Pokemon Go challenges players to find Pokemon characters – in the real world. So basically, people are walking around – or worse driving around – looking for these virtual characters. Clearly, a word of safety advice is in order here, right?

Here’s the tweet from @wsdot:

And before you think that WSDOT was just overly opportunistic, consider this item posted on Vine: (editor’s note: the Vine was deleted from the site. But visit Vine to see other examples.)

And there are even people who in just the first week think walking and playing the game is too “boring.” So, they are trying to figure out how to drive and play the game “safely.”

As if the world of driving wasn’t already difficult enough!

Driving Skills Course Offers Lessons of a Lifetime

It was cold. Even for March in the mid-Atlantic region, the weather on Saturday was cold with snow mixed with rain forecast well into the evening. Miserable? Yes. But that rotten weather was the absolutely best weather for teaching a young person how to drive.

12885864_10154072548131584_8949858854906269884_o
Every student earned a certificate and received framed photos at the end of the day. Posted by Ford Driving Skills for Life on Saturday, March 19, 2016

Now, I do not normally consider freezing rain and snow great teaching conditions. But then again, I wasn’t the teacher. Instead, my son was learning important driving skills from a collection of race car drivers through the Ford Driving Skills for Life program (co-sponsored by Governor’s Highway Safety Association).

Now in its 10th year, the program travels the country, offering young drivers the opportunity to get behind the wheel to learn skills like high speed lane changes, how anti-lock brakes work, distract driving, impaired driving and a quick introduction to basic vehicle maintenance. Continue reading “Driving Skills Course Offers Lessons of a Lifetime”