Imagine you’re driving with your family on a two-lane suburban road at around 50 miles an hour when another car approaches from the opposite direction. As the two cars close at a combined speed of 100 miles per hour, separated by a mere five feet on opposite sides of the painted center line, is it okay with you if the other driver is using a handheld device to enter GPS coordinates, look up a phone number, or dial a call?
Massachusetts’ Safe Driving Act basically says to that oncoming driver, “If you’re 18 or older, no problem.” The 2010 law prohibits reading or writing a text or e-mail on a handheld device while driving, but permits numerous other uses of the same device.
Is the Legislature comfortable with that mixed message?
Jay Winsten, Center for Health Communication at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, op-ed published June 4, 2015 in The Boston Globe
Read The Boston Globe Op-Ed
Texting while driving and other forms of distracted driving are responsible for more than 1 million crashes, 400,000 injuries, and 3,000 deaths in the U.S. each year—and those numbers are likely to increase with the proliferation of in-car infotainment systems. Given the dangers, Jay Winsten of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health urges that efforts be strengthened to keep drivers from taking their eyes off the road.
Winsten, Frank Stanton Director of the Center for Health Communication at Harvard Chan, wrote an article in the April 1, 2015 Huffington Post marking the beginning of Distracted Driving Awareness Month. He also moderated a panel on the topic the same day at the Massachusetts State House. Citing research on the dangers of distracted driving, he wrote in the Post that the risk of causing a crash or near-crash spikes threefold when drivers take their eyes off the road for longer than 2 seconds to interact with a digital device. But the average text message takes 4.6 seconds to type and send. “When traveling at 55 miles per hour, 4.6 seconds is equivalent to driving the full length of a football field while blindfolded,” Winsten wrote.
Possible ways to toughen distracted driving laws include instituting stiff penalties for the practice in school zones, work zones, or police road-stops, Winsten wrote. He noted that driving after drinking was a widely accepted practice in the 1980s, but that aggressive advocacy efforts by groups like MADD, enactment of tough state laws, and media campaigns helped turn the tide, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. “A comparable success can assuredly be achieved against distracted driving,” he wrote.
Read the Huffington Post article by Jay Winsten: Distracted, Bloody Fool!
Read about Winsten’s Mass. State House appearance on April 1 in a Lowell Sun article: Atkins dials up support for hands-free cellphone use
April 9, 2014 — The Huffington Post: “When HuffPost President and Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington collapsed from exhaustion in 2007…she knew it was time to reevaluate the way she understood success…. In her continued effort to do so, she explored that new definition of success when she spoke at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health…. Led by moderator Jay Winsten, the Frank Stanton director of the Center for Health Communication at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Arianna addressed the panel on how we can reinvent our outlook on achievement in order to create more sustainable lives…. ‘Basically, we have become addicted to technology — and that’s one of the things we need to change, because we now take better care of our smartphones than we take care of ourselves,’ Arianna said. ‘The truth is, when we are recharged and renewed, we are much more effective at whatever it is that we are working on or what we want to achieve.'”
Read The Huffington Post article by Lindsay Holmes