Thursday, July 3, 2014

That Movie Magic

In the late 1980s, the term “designated driver” began popping up all over pop culture.  The bar in Cheers had a poster and on L.A. Law, Harry Hamlin asked a bartender to call his designated driver.  This was the work of Dr. Jay Winsten of the Harvard Alcohol Project.  Using movie magic for good, he asked Hollywood studios and TV networks to spread the word on designated drivers.  The point wasn’t to change behavior over night but to bring the idea into public consciousness and shape social norms. 

As someone who grew up in the 1980s, I can attest to the success of the campaign.  What was new back then is now a given among my friends today.  As someone who has never owned a car (or a suit— despite my age, I’m barely a grown up), I have ridden shotgun countless times while generous friends drove.  Consequently, I’ve gotten to observe the driving patterns of many conscientious, risk-averse, public-health minded friends— who always buckle up, would never drive drunk, and would otherwise never put our lives at risk.  That is, except for one thing: futzing with the damn smartphone (aka “distracted driving). 

We’ve read the risks.  Signed Oprah’s pledge like Sandra Bullock.  And cried through super sad PSAs.  Yet we stubbornly assume that we are safer, smarter, and luckier drivers than others and whip out phones to send messages, find that one song, and check Facebook when we think traffic is slow. Many states are enacting distracted driving laws to deter phone use, though the policies haven’t stopped many of us.  We need Winsten's movie magic to change social norms.  He is working on replicating his campaign with distracted driving.  Until it becomes widespread though, I offer 3 personal tips to reduce distracted driving:
  •  “Look, Ma, No Hands!”  Bossing someone around is more fun anyway.  Take advantage of bluetooth technology (or even Siri) to make calls and navigate via verbal cues rather than fumble with the phone.
  •  Cede/Commandeer Control.  As a driver, let whoever rides shotty co-pilot.  As a rider, I offer my phone and navigation skillz so the driver can focus on well, driving. 
  •  I Don’t Want To Die Today. As a rider, when I feel particularly uncomfortable with how much a driver is looking down on the phone, I shout “Eyes on the prize!” or other variants.  It’s usually funny enough that I don’t get kicked out immediately, yet alerts the driver to the issue.
Unlike Winsten’s campaign, my suggestions are not quite public health. They are one-on-one interventions whose successes I have personally witnessed.  But until policy initiatives catch up, I hope you’ll give these a try.

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