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June 18, 2009

Safety council targets 'death by cell phone'

                                                          Photo/National Safety Council


Talking on a cell phone while driving is the ultimate do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do of American culture. About 80 percent of us say we sometimes do it, and about 80 percent of us are annoyed at other drivers that do it. 

The National Safety Council is taking aim at that double standard in billboards it has put up in 67 markets around the country that it expects to reach more than 1 million people daily. The title: Death By Cell Phone."

The billboards, sponsored by Nationwide Insurance Co. and Lamar Advertising, show pictures of Linda, a 61-year-old wife, mother and grandmother from Oklahoma, and Joe, a 12-year-old boy from Michigan, both of whom were killed in car crashes caused by drivers who were chatting away on cell phones.

According to the safety council, the title comes from Linda’s daughter, Jennifer Smith, speaking about the young man who hit her mother: “He ran a red light and T-boned her car at 45 to 50 miles per hour, which was the posted speed limit. My mother died within a couple of hours from blunt force trauma to the head, neck and chest. I just call it death by cell phone.”

In addition to photos of Linda and Joe, the billboards display  the address of a Web site where viewers can watch a short video  about their deaths. Appearing in the video along with Smith is Joe’s father, David Teater.

After his son’s death, David Teater took a  jobs as the council's  senior director of  transportation strategic initiatives, concentrating on reducing distracted driving and teen driving fatalities.

Teater hopes to see the day when driving while using a cell phone goes the way of smoking while flying in jetliners.

“I can close my eyes and envision, maybe it is five years from now, maybe it is 10 years, when we can all look back and say ‘Hey, remember when we all used to talk on cell phones when we drove? What idiots we were to do that,’” he said.

The ads are being shown on billboard  space donated by the Lamar company. None of the locations are in Maryland -- the closest are in Harrisburg and Richmond -- but safety council spokeswoman Meredith Morris said her group would be happy to talk with anyone with billboard space to spare.

In January, the safety council called  for a nationwide ban on all forms of cell phone use -- whether hand-held or wireless -- while driving. Information about the dangers of the practice is available on the National Safety Council  web site.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:09 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: On the roads


Reminds me about safety and seat belts. Remember when we didn't wear seat belts?" What made the cultural change? Was it education, like this worthy campaign, or was it law: "click it or ticket?" Perhaps a combination of the two?

I call it "Death by Stupid People".

Some people drive more carefully when on the phone, and try to minimize that time -- don't just blindly throw them in with the foolish people who cause accidents (including the one I was involved in myself, where I was rear-ended and in physical therapy for over a year).

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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