No one should fault the Michigan Department of Transportation’s intention. The state agency is rightly concerned about traffic fatalities, and it’s doing something about them.
“Toward Zero Deaths,” a new statewide safety campaign MDOT launched this month, is supposed to encourage drivers to improve their behavior. The pilot program, which continues through November, is a response to America’s startling number of highway traffic fatalities — more than 35,000 a year.
An important factor in the troubling death toll is distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute cite driver inattention as the leading factor in most accidents and close calls.
Distracted driving is one of the campaign’s targets.
“If everyone could steer clear of driving distracted, drowsy, impaired or carelessly, our roads would be much safer. Displaying hard data for motorists is an eye-opener that will increase awareness and focus,” said Michigan State Police Lt. Gary Megge.
The data is a running tally of Michigan traffic fatalities, a dramatic way to remind motorists to pay more attention to driving safely. The method — using roadside electronic signs — seems counterproductive.
Drivers already are plagued by countless distractions. Directing their attention away from the road to another one — no matter how important the message might be — is the wrong way to promote safer driving.
Surely MDOT can find a better way to raise safety awareness. Radio public service announcements are one means. They can deliver the message effectively without forcing motorists to take their eyes off the road.
For now, the electronic road signs will display the sobering information about Michigan’s traffic deaths. MDOT will count them as important tools in the effort to bring down the unacceptable number of fatalities.
For such an important cause, state transportation officials should have made sure the message they send is not a mixed one. Leadership in this case shouldn’t be a matter of “Do as we say, not as we do.”
The Times Herald, Port Huron