Jay Winsten. Photo by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Jay Winsten. Photo by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Reducing distracted driving requires a dose of creativity

Distracted driving plays a role in thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries each year. And despite near-universal disapproval of texting and emailing behind the wheel, roughly one-third of all drivers do it anyway. Now Jay Winsten, Frank Stanton Director of the Harvard School of Public Health’s Center for Health Communication, plans to start a campaign against distracted driving. Texting and cellphone use will be the main focus of the campaign, although other distractions—like programming a GPS or fiddling with a child’s entertainment center—will also be targeted.

Winsten, who spearheaded the successful “designated driver” campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s to reduce drunk driving, thinks that messages against distracted driving—on television shows, movies, websites, or social media—will eventually change social norms about the acceptability of emailing or texting behind the wheel. And, as he did with the distracted driving campaign, Winsten hopes to enlist the creative talents of Hollywood to get the message out.

“People connect to fictional characters, and become engaged in the story lines,” Winsten said in a May 20, 2013 Harvard Gazette article. “A substantial body of research on social learning has demonstrated that the modeling of behavior through entertainment programming can strongly influence social norms and behavior.”

Read the Harvard Gazette article

Learn more

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Designated Driver Campaign: Harvard center helped to popularize solution to a national problem (HSPH feature)