“Project Look Out:” changing driving behavior by Marjorie Arons-Barron


photo SafeNebraska

Remember the old days when  the term “designated driver” evoked A.J. Foyt or Mario Andretti? By the 1980’s, however, we learned that “designated driver” meant the guy (or gal) at the party who wouldn’t drink so someone would be around to drive home sober. The idea of designated driver was the result of a nationwide public service campaign driven by Jay Winsten and the Harvard’s Center for Health Communication to combat drunk driving fatalities. There were public service announcements, news stories and other traditional elements of a media campaign.  Winsten also went out to the entertainment industry, including the soaps, so the need for designated drivers was woven into the story line.

Winsten is at it again with a national campaign to prevent deaths and injuries from distracted driving, and it’s not a minute too soon. The Massachusetts legislature has largely sat on the issue for 15 years, banning only texting while driving and drivers under 18 from cell phone use.  A bill to ban all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while behind the wheel has finally passed both branches and is in conference committee, but there’s no guarantee of action when the legislature returns from summer recess. Jay Winsten’s campaign is one of national persuasion, with the goal of changing behavior as he did with drunk driving.

Project Look Out would follow the same model.  With the earlier designated driver campaign, he raised over $100 million in in-kind contributions from Hollywood studios and TV networks.  He hopes to do that again, seeking widespread adoption of the concept of the “attentive driver,” one who, like an owl, scans the road for unexpected danger.  Project Look Out will also encourage passengers to speak up when their drivers are exhibiting behavior that distracts them from the road.  Particular attention will be paid to the New England region, where the four percent jump in traffic fatalities in 2018 was the highest of any region in the country.  Nationally, road deaths actually fell a little.

Safe use of new technologies will figure importantly, which is why passage of the hand-held cell phone ban is so important.  Drivers, many of whom take pride in their prowess at multi-tasking, will be encouraged instead to be proactive in the face of other distracted drivers, to watch out for cyclists and pedestrians, a vehicle drifting from its lane, a stopped school bus; backed up traffic.  Wide use will be made of social media, broadcast and cable stations across the country, and local civic organization.  As Winsten did with his drunk driving and domestic abuse campaigns, he’ll encourage local media to carry the message forward.

We can all do better to develop the skills of active scanning and situational awareness, much like the owl, with its turning head and piercing eyes,  that will be the logo of Project Look Out.  Meanwhile, until the campaign launches, it would be useful to pressure our senators and representatives to iron out their few differences and get the ban on hand-held cell phones passed and signed into law before more injuries and fatalities happen on the state’s already congested and dangerous roadways.