A PR Grand Slam for an Issue of Life or Death
We all know the power of talk show queen Oprah, whose
endorsement of a book can make it an overnight best-seller. And we know how much Government can do to
push an issue,
harnessing seemingly endless manpower and equally endless
I was part of a project that brought these two awesome forces together this week in
the effort to reduce the death toll from distracted driving by convincing
people not to text or use cell phones while they drive.
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood calls distracted
driving “a national epidemic” that is hitting young people especially hard. Nearly 5,900 people died last year in
distracted driving-related crashes, and another half a million were
injured. A disproportionate number of
them are young people, who are the biggest texters.
I’m writing this on the Amtrak as I return home from
Secretary LaHood has supported the effort from the start,
doing TV interviews to promote it, lending his name to our efforts to encourage
teens to participate, and then taking the time Thursday to join us in a news
conference at the National Press Club in Washington, where he personally
thanked the National Road Safety Foundation and introduced to the media both
the new PSA and Bethany Brown, the Arizona high school student who conceived it
for us. He also posted the PSA on his
official blog and on the Dept. of Transportation’s website distraction.gov.
So that’s our part so far in this massive effort. The heavy ammunition was rolled out Friday,
when Oprah devoted her entire show to making people aware of the dangers of
distracted driving and trying hard to convince them to change their behavior
behind the wheel.
She was on all three
network news shows Friday morning, talking about distracted driving and
encouraging people to take a pledge to make their cars a “no-phone zone.” Then, her own show rallied people in five cities
It’s reminiscent of grass roots efforts some 40 years ago when outraged families of drunk driving victims began groups like MADD and SADD. It starts with the telling and retelling of some tragic stories of innocent people killed by drivers who were too busy texting or looking at their phones to pay attention to the road until it was too late. I've met some of these people and heard their stories firsthand and it breaks your heart.
The difference this time is that a media heavyweight like Oprah is personally involved in the effort. She has the clout and power of persuasion that perhaps simply didn’t exist 40 years ago. It’s good that she’s harnessing that clout for a good cause.