To elicit the behavior-change behind the wheel that is needed to meaningfully combat distracted driving, an ‘evolution of social norms is important, and I think young people can help lead the way on that.’

November 9, 2019 — The Globe and Mail: “Distracted driving is broadly defined as performing any activity that might take your focus off the road…Particularly deadly is distraction related to a cellphone, which is designed to monopolize our attention…While the problem of distracted driving is one that’s immune to easy fixes, there are a host of ideas for how to reduce this deadly behaviour and minimize the harm it causes, everything from more punitive enforcement to rethinking how we build cars and roadways. Dr. Jay Winsten, whose public-health project at Harvard University aims to combat distracted driving, believes it will take a combination of both technological intervention and a generational shift in behaviour to get it under control. ‘The evolution of social norms is important, and I think young people can help lead the way on that,’ he says…The last time we faced a crisis of this magnitude on the roads was two generations ago, with impaired driving. Although driving drunk was criminalized in Canada in 1969, the practice remained stubbornly widespread…The tide eventually turned, but slowly. There was a 44-per-cent drop in alcohol-related incidents from 1978 to 1986. Progress was made through a combination of roadside sobriety programs…tougher penalties and stricter enforcement of the law. Possibly the biggest factor in getting drunk driving under control, however, was a dramatic change in public attitudes…The idea of the designated driver — a concept popularized in large part by Dr. Winsten — was a crucial part of the puzzle…Dr. Winsten’s Harvard Alcohol Project also took its campaign to pop culture, leading to impaired driving being featured in the plot lines of 160 episodes of prime-time TV between 1988 and 1992. Gradually, public attitudes changed. What was once seen as a trivial crime, as long as the driver got home safely, became more socially unacceptable. But we’re not there yet with distracted driving.”
Read The Globe and Mail article by Oliver Moore