Chaffin Luhana Distracted Driving

The tow truck stops at the bridge, brakes squealing in the heavy downpour. It lowers a hook into the water, heaves a sopping piece of debris out of the riverbed. Lying limp, crumpled somewhere between a mangled wheel and a shattered windshield, is a young girl. 16, 17. Her hand hangs out of the sunroof, waving to my dad on the sidewalk.

My dad, the firefighter and paramedic, reaches in and cradles the soaked little girl in his arms. A few chest compressions.

Nothing.

---

My dad, the firefighter and paramedic, reaches into the cubby for his phone as he creeps to a stop. I give him a look. He sets it down and puts his hand back onto the gear shift.

My dad used to call home after bad days at work, just to hear our voices, so I knew how much a crash could affect someone.

With a little convincing and constant reminders, I helped him to stop using his phone in the car, before it became illegal. When his phone would buzz, he’d fix his eyes closer to the road and tell me,

“Look, I’m not picking it up.”

We did this every time we were together until it became habit.My dad’s job as a paramedic, mine and my sibling’s new licenses, and our knowledge of crashes are all deterrents for my family, but for many others, the temptation is too great.

Thus, the CDC’s over 400,000 people injured by distracted drivers in 2013 (CDC). With our current approaches to distracted driving, I see two major problems.

First, campaigns target small audiences with old material. Either they mock the classic “texting teenage girl” in a light-hearted way, or they appeal to trite scare tactics. When Every Fifteen Minutes came to my school, it was already such an old performance that students laughed when the “Grim Reaper” came to “take us away.” Widespread, substantive change is a matter of knowing facts, but high quality advertising material enhances the emotional impact and longevity thereof.

From overused demonstrations, new drivers inherit not only the mindset of normalized distracted driving, but a feeling that these contrived warnings are meaningless and condescending.

Campaigns like Fresh Empire, on the other hand, have engaged an increasingly diverse audience with literally “fresh” anti-smoking ads. Though technology is the problem of most crashes, Fresh Empire uses tech as a solution --by distributing ads on profusely on popular social media platforms. A similar approach would work well for distracted driving ads.

Second is the problem of implementation. It will ultimately be the driver’s job to drive responsibly. This we can’t ensure, but we can still shape through high quality ads.

My poetry teacher says that great poetry is a syllogism with the last idea left off. Combined with beautiful, fresh language, he says, people love the feeling of drawing their own meaning. Similarly, by providing supple material with implied, but interpretable meaning, we set up young audiences for self-revelation about distracted driving.

An example of these strategies, combined might be something like this:

A family gets into a car; the dad drives. On the freeway doing about 75, he receives a text and unlocks his phone. He looks up to see a giant semi, completely stopped. The screen blacks out, and we hear the sounds of a crash, crying children. Sirens begin and are abruptly cut off.

Expecting resolution, some overbearing “Don’t text and drive, it can be fatal,” we get nothing. The TV show comes back on.

It’s jarring, it’s brief, and if done by tastefully, it would be extremely effective. Because we already are familiar with statistics, we can connect numbers and facts with emotion. Haunting and effective.

---

Whenever my family catches someone shooting a quick text at the stoplight, we remind them of our stakes, and they put their phone down. But not everyone has to face these same stakes to know that crashes are devastating. New ads give can give powerful insights that act as deterrents. When we address the dated, low-quality material and supplement it with fresh, exciting campaigns, we begin to move towards denormalizing distracted driving. Car fatalities due to distractions don’t have to be the status quo any more than tuberculosis fatalities were half a century ago.

Maybe with the help of revamped advertising, when the tow truck stops at the bridge, brakes squealing in the downpour, it’ll be headed past you to pick up the stalled car on the curb.






Works Cited

"Distracted Driving."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, 07 Mar. 2016. Web. 3025 Jan. 2017.