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.
In 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.
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.
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”
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.
The novel approach to build an online campaign focused on a specific audience of younger adults who, according to research, are more likely to get behind the wheel after drinking or drugging.
“Far too many people still mix alcohol, drugs and driving. Young people, in particular, often don’t understand that impaired driving is a crime, and a serious one — and they also are less likely to buckle up,” said Acting Transportation Secretary Erica Borggren. “These same young people ages 21-34 no longer receive news through traditional means. We’re hopeful this new series will catch their attention and give them a reason to log on or check their mobile devices. When they do, they’ll be entertained — and most importantly, they’ll receive a life-saving message.”
With AASHTO Subcommittee on Transportation Communications annual meeting next week in Raleigh, NC, it is worth noting a few of the stories that are likely to be part of the conversations. Please remember, this blog does not offer political commentary. This list simply acknowledges some important stories that transportation communications professionals have a high chance of managing in the coming year.