Leave the phone alone
By Nora Duguid
By Nora Duguid
A head-on collision on the way home from the cottage instantly killed Matt Morling’s grandmother and the driver of the other car. Morling came close to suffering the same fate. A coroner’s investigation revealed the other driver was likely distracted when the Aug. 2009 collision occurred.
“My grandmother lost her life and I almost lost mine,” said Morling. “It was upsetting to know that it was a conscious decision made by him to do that. It was a choice he made and it angered me that someone would choose to put others at risk.”
Distracted driving is quickly overtaking drunk driving as the biggest hazard on our roads. A recent Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) survey, based on available data, found distraction was a contributing factor in an estimated 23 per cent of fatal crashes and 27 per cent of major injury crashes in Canada in 2012. Distraction-related fatalities have increased 26 per cent and major injuries have increased 14 per cent since 2006, according to a 2015 Canadian Council of Motor Transportation Administrator’s (CCMTA) report.
It also discovered that inconsistent messaging nationally resulted in local law enforcement and city authorities putting out a lot of divergent ideas, causing a lack of cohesion. While the CCMTA and Transport Canada can provide some leadership on this front, a unified voice and strategy on the issue is badly needed.
The TIRF report calls for sending out a single viral message and indicates that distracted-driving education will not develop to its full potential unless it is consistent across the board.
The Leave the Phone Alone (LTPA) initiative, launched in the spring of 2012 by the Safer Roads Ottawa (SRO) program, initially partnered with a local radio station. It also put up six large road signs across the city and began a successful social media outreach.
Ottawa Police Service (OPS) Sgt. Denis Hull approached SRO in early 2014 with the idea of launching a more robust texting and driving campaign. Assigned to keep city roads safe, he knew texting and driving was a significant challenge. The number of distracted driving collisions in Ottawa alone had doubled from about 3,000 in 2008 to 6,000 in 2013. It remains a top priority for city residents and this unfortunate trend is similar in municipalities across Canada.
“I have truly been amazed at the level of support that the Ottawa Police Service has brought to the initiative since 2014,” said SRO coordinator Rob Wilkinson.
Hull researched the issue and realized it was necessary to engage at three basic levels: enforcement, partnerships and education. His LTPA campaign has become well-known in Ottawa. Informally launched at the inaugural Red Black football game in October 2014, it continued through 2015 with monthly awareness blitzes in the national capital region in cooperation with the RCMP, OPP, Service de Police de Gatineau and military police.
Local police agencies weren’t the only ones to recognize the program’s value. Hull credits partners Bell Media, the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administration (CCMTA) and SRO for quickly providing media coverage and financial and other support.
Support soon followed from others, including the CACP, OACP and the Ottawa Red-Blacks.
The Police Association of Ontario and Ottawa Police Association have both supported the initiative and police services across the country have requested information and presentations.
The initiative spans all of Ontario in terms of cooperation and branding. The next step is to expand it nationally. The goal is unification: A single catch phrase instantly recognizable no matter where you live. There are currently at least seven or eight different distracted-driving campaigns in Ontario alone.
How the messaging gets out is equally important. Hull recognized that children tend to be the change ambassadors in their families and communities. Targeting soon-to-be drivers and teaching them about the dangers of distracted driving could easily influence family and friends and start, beginning meaningful change in how the culture of texting and driving is viewed.
“The change we want to affect will only come if we get them to buy in at a young age,” said OPS S/Sgt. Brad Hampson.
The educational component of the LTPA campaign sets it apart from other initiatives. All four Ottawa school boards have adopted the program and are rolling it out to area schools. There are resources for students of all ages, including activity books, educational videos, thumb-band reminders, classroom pledge posters and stickers.
There is also a structured teaching manual and all of the program’s teaching components are available on the OPS web site, accessible to any agency that wishes to pursue the program.
“What truly makes this initiative so very different is the focus on engaging the youngest residents of our community in the campaign,” said Wilkinson.
Teens and young adults are the most likely to text and drive, since they were born into a world where the Internet and social media has always existed.
“Young people are the most comfortable with technology and no one in that group remembers a time without Internet or email,” explained Hull. “We need to educate kids about the dangers of distracted driving before they even get their licenses. More than that, we want kids to be our own agents of change by reminding their parents and friends to leave the phone alone while driving.”
The message appears to be hitting home. Students at Chapel Hill Elementary school were the first to get in-class instruction on the LTPA program on Feb. 2, 2016. They then began doing their own presentations, taking what they learned into other classrooms.
“We can’t ask for more than this, that schoolchildren continue passing on the distracted driving message on their own” said Hampson.
The benefits to this program are clear: Education, partnerships and enforcement will serve to improve road safety for the community-at-large. This new kind of messaging is starting to catch on. It has become an effective and innovative use of enforcement – a viral messaging that reflects the OPS desire for safer roads in Ottawa and across Canada.
Visit www.ottawapolice.ca or contact OPS corporate communications to learn more about the LTPA program. Nora Duguid is a recent Carleton University Journalism program graduate who did a placement with the Ottawa Police Service.