In 2009, less than half of states used Facebook and then most were tepid in their level of engagement. The dominant tool for state DOTs was Twitter, but it was used almost exclusively for sharing roadway traffic conditions and emergency information.
After a lawsuit was filed against the Trump Administration for blocking Twitter users, the Lansing State Journal decided to look at government accounts in its home state. It found that state agencies had blocked accounts.
A few paragraphs into the story, there was this line that pointed directly at the state DOT:
“Records show that while some government accounts didn’t block anyone, the dozen accounts associated with the Michigan Department of Transportation blocked a combined 550 individual Twitter handles.”
That certainly was true. The iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone, but it revolutionized how people communicated and how they sought out information – two things that have largely reshaped the ways in which communications teams within transportation departments do their work.
In 2007, a DOT team with which I worked teamed up with a local utility company to insert construction announcements into monthly water bills that went to residents near a major project. It was expensive and time-consuming. And, we had no way of knowing whether the people who opened the utility bill even read the notice.
It is no secret that state DOTs throughout the country have become adept communications organizations. The focus in many DOTs is turning away from the road to toward the people who use the transportation system – all its modes and priorities.
Transportation organizations have important information to share with the traveling public. That’s especially true during natural disasters when maintenance crews and first responders are often the first people surveying damage and assessing the status of infrastructure leading to people’s homes and businesses.
The White House is there. Departments of health have accounts. Even departments of wildlife and interior have created Snapchat accounts. But state DOTs are still not embracing the fast-growing social medium popular with teens and young adults.
The exception is Mississippi DOT, which in April partnered with a local Mississippi-based creative firm Godwin Group to engage youth and their parents at a safety fair in Jackson.
I never realized how dangerous it was for teen drivers to climb behind the wheel until recently when it was time to teach my teenage son how to drive. Not even when I was a young person did I fully appreciate the myriad distractions, and the literally non-stop decision-making necessary for someone to drive safely on our roadways.
Driving is not easy. Perhaps that’s why more than 32,000 people are killed in roadway crashes each year. That’s a staggering amount by any measure.
State DOTs and other public safety organizations around the country are doing their part to try and get all of us – the experienced driver and the young person – to imagine a future when no one dies on America’s roadways.
Under the banner “Toward Zero Deaths,” a coalition of transportation organizations have decided that our national target goal for roadway deaths should be less than one.
Many state examples of public outreach campaigns touting the target goal can be found online. Mississippi Department of Transportation recently launched its web site and it features a game show-themed video asking regular people safety related messages.
Mississippi’s video follows the lead of states like Utah, Iowa and Nevada by asking people how many deaths are acceptable on the nation’s highways. Then they ask, how many deaths are acceptable in that person’s family. Of course it’s zero.
I have always considered it clever and effective to make the issue of safety intensely personal. But nothing makes the topic as effective as climbing into a vehicle with a young driver.