Campaign warns of distracted driving perils

If you’re paying attention—to television, radio, or an electronic billboard in Times Square—you’re likely to encounter the Academy’s new media campaign to alert the public to the dangers of distracted driving.

The campaign, which was introduced during the Opening Ceremonies yesterday, is in partnership with the Orthopaedic Trauma Association. It features a full array of media spots and print ads, along with a Web site with interactive tools and various outreach programs and resources for members.

2011 AAOS public service campaign.

In an average year, 500,000 people are injured in accidents caused by drivers who are distracted. “Little” distractions—changing the radio station, taking a phone call, reaching for a child’s toy—“aren’t so little at all,” notes Sandra Gordon, AAOS director of public relations, in a cover letter to media outlets. “These diversions are a significant threat to the safety of the driver, his or her passengers, and everybody else on the road.”

“People don’t have an idea of the scope of the problem,” says Michael F. Schafer, MD, chair of the Communications Cabinet. “We’re really trying to get people to determine that when they get behind the wheel, they focus on their driving.”

A comprehensive approach
The Decide to Drive campaign, riding a slogan of “Behind the wheel, there is no such thing as a small distraction” is the Academy’s most comprehensive awareness effort ever, Ms. Gordon says. Along with the public service announcements (PSAs) that will be sent to TV and radio stations as well as print publications, the campaign includes a school curriculum, involving 10,000 teachers, that brings orthopaedic surgeons into the classroom to discuss the issue. A toolkit is available for members and societies to use to get the word out. At the Web site,, visitors can share stories of their encounters with distraction incidents.

In April, which Congress has designated as National Distracted Driving Awareness month, orthopaedic leaders will stage a press conference at the National Press Club. The campaign also has a component to encourage legislative action.

As for that Times Square billboard, it is the jumbo electronic screen promoting David Letterman’s “Late Show.” In February, March, and April, messages will flash 18 times an hour warning the bustling throngs below of the dangers of distracted driving. It’s made possible by funding provided by the Auto Alliance, a partner in the campaign.

A step beyond “OMG”
The awareness program amounts to a broad extension of the Academy’s attention getting and well received “OMG” print campaign, which used graphic imagery to convey the dangers of texting and phone use while driving. The new distracted driving television spot also gets the point across vividly. It opens mildly enough with a shot of a toy frog on a road but takes a more harrowing turn as it runs backwards and in slow motion to convey the serious consequences resulting from distracted driving.

The radio spot takes a fresh approach to the PSA by featuring a woman proclaiming the message in a “spoken word” style, the kind you might hear at a poetry slam, as a jazzy bass guitar plays in the background. She concludes: Put it down. Hang it up. Pay attention to highway action. There is no such thing as a small distraction.

Ms. Gordon says that the airing of the spots, along with the print pieces in newspapers, magazines, and airport terminals, will amount to the equivalent of $18 million in advertising spending had the Academy bought the time and space.

Campaign ads can be seen at the airport and around the convention center.

The AAOS public relations department has lapel pins for members and a how-to guide for those who want to spread the word in their home towns. Contact the public relations department or visit the online news bureau at

Members may also order free printed materials for display in their offices; shipping costs apply.

Prepared by Terry Stanton, senior science writer for AAOS Now.