I wish it were more difficult to blog about distracted driving. But a quick news search every day turns up all too many articles with titles like "Cell phone use cited in I-40 crash that killed two boys."
I wish it weren't so, but the numbers are compelling; this is a very real and very dangerous problem. In the Syracuse, NY, area, our pilot enforcement project cited 2,300 drivers texting or using a hand-held cell phone during the first 10 days alone. Our Hartford, CT, pilot reported similar numbers. Those are just two communities. Multiply that out across the country, and the math is simply staggering.
Kari Galassi and Jodi Brubaker of Hinsdale, Illinois, are two moms who saw the problem and began selling a tan-colored car window sign with "Get off the phone" over a marked out cell phone image. "It always irritated me," Brubaker said, "that you could see so many drivers paying more attention to their phones than the road."
In conjunction with last month's Oprah show on No Phone Zone day, the signs were featured on groupon.com and orders skyrocketed. Galassi reports,"They were only going to be featured for one day, but they really took off, and Groupon kept them up through the weekend."
But Kari and Jodi aren't in it for the sales. "The great thing about Groupon," says Kari, "is that the web page, which had over 3,000 views, wasn't just selling signs. It had a lot of educational content about distracted driving. And the Groupon demographic is largely twenty-somethings. You've got a lot of concerned moms like us and also high school service groups spreading the message to their peers. But in between, there's not much going on, so Groupon really filled a valuable public service niche."
The next step for getoffthephonesign.com is to get car dealers to include a sign with every car purchase. As Kari says:
"The signs are not not just for the other drivers to see. This is a habit, and it's hard to break; the sign reminds me to put the phone away and just drive. Plus, my kids see it when they climb into the car, so they're getting that safety message over and over again. New car owners can use that help, too."
East Junior High School student Maisie Langholff from Wisconsin Rapids is one of those service-minded students Kari is talking about. Just yesterday, wearing T-shirts that say "Distracted driving kills" on the back and "Put it down" on the front, Maisie and her fellow Ambassadors presented facts and videos to their peers. "They're not up here speaking as experts," said Chris Bondioli, guidance counselor at East. "They're up here because they care about you."
In Wrentham, Massachusetts, students at King Philip High School's BeSmart Wellness Club took part in a driving while texting exercise and it was an eye-opener. Says senior Jenna Butera:
“I went into the course thinking that I was going to have no problem texting and driving at the same time. But, within minutes of doing the drills, I quickly realized that I, in fact, was incapable of texting and driving safely. I saw many of my friends go through it, too, and hit the cones every time.”
They recorded their experience as part of a video for their “OMG Drive Text Free! Take Action Against Distraction” campaign. And I'm pleased to report their campaign is one of 20 finalists in the National Organizations for Youth Safety "Act Out Loud" contest. This contest is being run in conjunction with National Youth Traffic Safety Month and seeks the best work to raise awareness of teen safe driving practices.
The finalists have all turned in remarkable projects, and I urge you to vote for your favorite submission by May 21 at www.actoutloud.org.
We know that deaths from distracted driving are 100% preventable. We know this. Just put that phone away as soon as you get in the car. That's all you have to do.And, if you want to do more, like the folks above and the others too numerous to mention, then go for it. As the students from King Philip High School put it, let's all "Take Action Against Distraction."