SALEM, Ore. - (Update: Adding video, local ODOT comments)
Nearly 500 people lost their lives on Oregon roads in 2016 – erasing a decade’s worth of gains, state officials said Tuesday as they announced a new effort to curb the problem with a software app and some friendly competition.
Crash data analysis points towards a contributing cause for the rising death toll: distracted driving.
“Let’s keep it simple, most of the crashes caused on our highways are caused by distracted driving,” ODOT spokesman Peter Murphy said in Bend Tuesday.
Every three hours, someone is injured by a distracted driver in Oregon. Over 75% of Oregonians admit to doing it, but almost the same number don’t like it when others drive distracted. It’s reached epidemic proportions. Recent research suggests we simply can’t stop looking at our phones, even while driving. In short, we’re addicted.
The Oregon Department of Transportation has teamed up with LifeSaver to help reduce distracted driving by making healthy driving a game. Beginning September 1st, the department and its partners: AAA of Oregon/Idaho and the Oregon State Police, invite those who drive in Oregon to join the movement towards healthy driving at DriveHealthy.org.
The concept is simple. Groups of Oregonians band together to compete with others to see who can keep their phones locked while driving. School against school, Rotary club against the Kiwanis, one church challenges another across town. The free app shows the top scorers in each category, plus your organization’s monthly score.
“The goal is to reduce distracted driving by making healthy driving a bit of a game," said AAA Oregon-Idaho spokeswoman Marie Dodds.
“As a culture I think we’re ready for a change,” said ODOT Communications Manager Tom Fuller. “The stories of deaths and injuries from distracted driving are as horrific as they are preventable.”
The campaign comes as the result of the recommendations from a statewide task force convened by ODOT Director Matthew Garrett in 2016. The task force recommended a positive approach to the problem.
“Healthy driving is our way of changing the conversation from shaming a negative behavior, to encouraging a positive one,” says Fuller.
Organizations can register at www.DriveHealthy.org, then on September 1st they download the free app and the competition begins. Each month is a new opportunity to compete. Will it be effective? A recent similar campaign in Boston reduced distracted driving by 47%.
Murphy said, “Reaching out to try something new and different is absolutely in our wheelhouse, and that’s where we’re going."
The campaign already has many partners. In addition to AAA Oregon/Idaho, ODOT, and the Oregon State Police, they include: the Oregon Association of Broadcasters, the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association and LifeSaver. More partners are coming on board each week.
The campaign also encourages local advocates to help reduce distracted driving in their communities. https://www.drivehealthy.org/resources/ includes links to toolkits where these advocates can do their own observational studies of distracted driving in their community and petition local jurisdictions to pass proclamations and policies to encourage healthy driving. The Resources page also has stories on distracted driving, as well as links to research studies and background.