Talk the talk on distracted driving

Our choice of language matters.

The 2018 Auto Dealers Against Distracted Driving campaign was a huge success nationally.

The month-long awareness campaign once again surpassed all expectations, with an impressive final pledge count of 27,850, which surpassed the goal of 20,000 pledges with flying colours.

Here in the Yukon we only recorded 51 pledges which means we still have a lot of work to do with respect to distracted driving.

In previous articles discussing high-risk driving behaviors like speeding or distracted driving, I have purposely used the word crash or collision instead of accident. I changed my vocabulary after talking to traffic police about driving issues. They rarely use the word accident because it promotes the idea that the events were beyond control or unavoidable. The consequences of distracted driving and speeding are completely avoidable.

I wondered just how important this designation was and did some research. The Traffic Injury Research Foundation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had a lot to say on the subject. They believe that language shapes policy, as well as action or inaction, and changing the thought process and language used to describe collisions can not only affect behavior, but also responses to motor vehicle crash events.

Their websites offered this more in-depth explanation: “Motor vehicle crashes and injuries are predictable, preventable events. The word ‘accident’ promotes the concept that these events are beyond human control. ‘Accident’ suggests an inevitability and unpredictability to crash events. This term inadvertently and incorrectly suggests that crashes cannot be prevented. Conversely, the term ‘crash’ encompasses a wider range of causes for road collisions than does the term ‘accident.’ In fact, traffic crashes are events that can be rationally analyzed and reduced through remedial action.”

Research shows that more than 90 per cent of collisions are avoidable, so the thought that somehow they aren’t is very misleading and may be giving you a false sense of security around poor driving habits. It may be why you sometimes continue to participate in high risk driving habits like distracted driving or speeding.

When you choose to use the term accident you are suggesting that the event wasn’t preventable and was just a random occurrence without a specific cause. It implies that it wasn’t the result of driving choices you made leading up to the event. It gives you an out with respect to personal responsibility.

We have been taught to use the term accident from an early age. I remember my mother telling me to make sure I wore clean underwear in case I got in an accident. The word continues to be used by some government agencies, lawyers in personal injury advertisements, and on the evening news. It’s unlikely that is going to change anytime soon so it’s up to you as an individual to find the discipline to proactively change your language.

The term crash or collision is a far better choice of language. It acknowledges that the event was preventable and a result of the choices you made leading up to the event. It also reaffirms within you that the event would not have happened if you had made better choices just prior to the crash. It denies you an out with respect to your behavior.

When you choose to make this seemingly subtle change, the philosophy of acceptance of the inevitable is immediately replaced by an attitude of challenge to change what is predictable and avoidable. It makes you take a much larger degree of responsibility. It may also lead you to believe that as a driver you should take more responsibility to prevent crashes. Basically, it assigns responsibility to the parties involved in vehicle crashes and reinforces the fact that high risk driving behaviors like distracting driving and speeding have consequences.

The goal is to have the consequences of high risk driving habits be at the forefront of your thoughts on a moment by moment basis while behind the wheel. This will be very difficult to do at first because if you haven’t experienced a crash or collision to date from your high-risk behaviors you may start feeling invincible. As human beings we’re not good at noticing things that we’re not specifically looking for. Pointing our eyes and thoughts at something is the first step toward seeing it.

They say (whoever they are) that it takes 21 days to develop a new habit. For the next three weeks why not focus on the potential consequences of high-risk behaviors while behind the wheel of your vehicle and not on your handheld device or other distracted driving behaviors.

Catch Driving with Jens on CHON FM Thursdays at 8:15. If you have any questions or comments you can reach out to Jens Nielsen at drivingwithjens@gmail.com, or on Facebook or Twitter: @drivingwithjens.

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