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
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.
April 29, 2014 — The Washington Post: “Can drivers be shamed into putting down their mobile communication devices? An associate dean at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health says it’s worth a try. And Jay A. Winsten says stand-up comedians could boost the effort. ‘A cellphone is like a magnet, and it draws our attention. Using the term addiction loosely, it really has addictive qualities,’ Winsten said at a public forum…. ‘It’s such a part of our psyche and our way of being that we’re going to have to re-position what it means when people see you talking on the phone,’ he said. You’re ‘really showing that you’re out of control, that you can’t stop, that you can’t put it down. We ought to recruit some top stand-up comedians [who are] going ridicule the behavior of not being able to put your phone down.’ Winsten was joined at the forum by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who said it’s time to ‘shock Americans into reality about the dangers of texting while driving.'” Read The Washington Post Dr. Gridlock blog by Ashley Halsey III
Although in-car infotainment systems have been linked to only a small number of auto crashes in the past, all bets are off when the new generation of systems becomes widely deployed. The National Safety Council has expressed deep concern that “the integration of these electronic devices into vehicles may irrevocably drive consumer demand and influence driver behavior, and create a greater risk than that of handheld mobile devices alone.” Meanwhile, NHTSA [U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Administration] has been plowing ahead with development of voluntary, non-binding guidelines for in-car, portable, and voice-activated infotainment systems. In April 2013, NHTSA issued its first set of guidelines, which call on car companies to limit the distraction risks associated with manufacturer-installed systems. Among other things, the guidelines call for disabling specific operations of infotainment systems unless the vehicle is stationary and shifted into park. The guidelines target manual text messaging, Internet browsing, and the display of web pages and social media content. Although voluntary, the guidelines will have teeth. Jay Winsten, Center for Health Communication at the Harvard Chan School, op-ed published April 28, 2014 in The Huffington Post Read The Huffington Post Op/Ed
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
In 2011, 3,331 people lost their lives and 387,000 suffered injuries in crashes involving a distracted driver…However, notwithstanding the sharp increase in awareness of the problem that has been achieved in recent years, studies suggest that we’re not yet making a significant dent in changing drivers’ behavior. Which raises the obvious question, why not? And, what will it take to turn this problem around? Moreover, why did another campaign — the designated-driver campaign against drunk driving — succeed? And what’s different about the distracted-driving problem? Jay Winsten, Center for Health Communication at the Harvard Chan School, op-ed published November 1, 2013 in The Huffington Post Read The Huffington Post Op/Ed
This piece kicked-off the “Road To Nowhere” month-long series produced by The Huffington Post and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health Communication to draw attention to the dangers of texting while driving and asked: How We Can Begin To Curb The Distracted Driving Epidemic?
An expansive, intellectually coherent but politically unachievable agenda, fueled by advocates for competing causes, will undercut current efforts to tackle extreme poverty, hunger, and disease that enjoy widespread political and public support.
Jay Winsten, Center for Health Communication at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, co-authored an op-ed published September 18, 2013 in The Huffington Post with Wendy Woods, a principal at The Boston Consulting Group. Read The Huffington Post Op/Ed
Looking beyond current political obstacles, the outlook is highly promising.
Jay Winsten, Center for Health Communication at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, co-authored an op-ed published June 6, 2013 in The Huffington Post with Sameer Anaokar, a principal at The Boston Consulting Group. Read The Huffington Post Op/Ed
May 20, 2013 — Harvard Gazette: “Each day, an average of nine people are killed in the United States and more than 1,000 injured by drivers doing something other than driving….Jay Winsten, Frank Stanton Director of The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health Communication and associate dean for health communication, thinks it’s time to turn to a higher power: social norms….With legislation outlawing distracted driving tough to enforce and awareness campaigns showing limited results, Winsten and colleagues are planning an initiative to change social norms by enlisting Hollywood as a partner. Such a strategy has worked before….Winsten spearheaded a campaign that made ‘designated driver’ a household term, helping to shape a new social norm that the driver doesn’t drink….the new effort, operating in a dramatically different media environment, will have to forge a new path….But Hollywood will still provide part of the answer, he said….The traditional top-down model of a public health campaign is outdated, he said, because today knowledge is disseminated laterally among the public as much as vertically from traditional knowledge sources.” Read the Harvard Gazette article by Alvin Powell
March 30, 2013 — This Day, Nigeria: “As a practical and ethical matter, a designated driver is a person who abstains from alcohol on a social occasion in order to drive his or her companions home safely as an alternative to driving under the influence….This concept was imported to the United States…through the Harvard Alcohol Project, an initiative by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health Communication, led by Jay Winsten…the campaign popularized the concept through public service announcements, as well as the encouragement of drunk driving prevention messages and designated driver references in popular television programs….Now that we are on the path to realize the Accra declaration of 2015 and United Nations decade of action on road safety in 2020, the essence of this detour is to bring to the front burner, the need for improved but collective efforts towards an all inclusive advocacy and consolidated funding on the designated driver campaign in Nigeria.” Read This Day, Nigeria Op/Ed by Jonas Agwu