This week, The Oprah Winfrey Show has broadcast a show about distracted driving, taking an aim at texting and driving specifically. Advocates are cheering the move, saying that the talk show host has such a key influence on people that more drivers may sit up and notice that texting while driving is dangerous. The show is asking people to take a pledge not to text or talk on their cell phones while driving. More importantly, say advocates, Oprah Winfrey’s considerable influence may make texting and driving seem socially unacceptable. The show even features t-shirts which feature the slogan “Don’t Tempt F8, That Txt Can W8.”
The show on distracted driving takes aim at distracted driving specifically caused by mobile devices – Winfrey addresses emailing, texting, and cell phone use behind the wheel. During the show, Winfrey speaks with several guests who have lost loved ones due to a distracted move. The guests offer a face to the losses associated with distracted driving.
Winfrey backs up her claims in the show with specific facts. She notes that 71% of drivers between 18 and 49 years of age admit to talking on a cell phone or texting while driving. She notes that such behaviors cause 6000 deaths and half a million personal injuries each year – statistics she notes will increase unless people put away mobile devices when getting into their cars. At one point, an expert notes that drivers who are talking on a cell phone are four times more likely to be in an accident than non-distracted drivers – the same accident rate as drunk drivers. Drivers who text while driving are eight times more likely to be in a car accident than non-distracted drivers, according to the show.
Winfrey calls distracted driving a “deadly habit” and notes that her interest in the issue increased when she read a number of articles in the newspaper about distracted drivers who caused serious car accidents, pedestrian accidents, bus accidents, and trucking accidents. Winfrey praises Utah’s tough distracted driving laws at one point during her show and interviews Reggie Shaw, a young man who killed two people a few years ago when he was texting and driving. Shaw admitted to texting and driving frequently while behind the wheel and notes that many of his friends do the same thing. The families of his two victims — Keith O’Dell and Jim Furfaro – worked to change distracted driving laws in Utah and Reggie himself has spoken out against distracted driving.
At one point during the show, Oprah Winfrey speaks to a specialist who notes that distracted driving is dangerous because the brain cannot process texts or cell phone calls as well as the information being seen visually through a windshield. Distracted drivers see only part of the information before them. Their brains effectively don’t notice some items on the street in front of them – such as other cars or pedestrians – since their brains are too busy processing incoming information from a mobile device.
The show even showed what happens during texting and driving. The show invited three guests to take part in a driving test. Each driver felt confident about their abilities to drive and text at the same time. After taking a driving test while texting, all three guests could see that they could not drive safely. This allowed Oprah Winfrey to note one of the key problems with texting and driving: many people genuinely believe that they can do both but in fact no one can do both successfully.