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OpEd: What will it take for us to slow down?

Slow down and save a life: it’s a message we need to hear every day.
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Nevil Hunt, February 18, 2014 9:22:15 AM

The death of a young mother in Calgary has prompted her husband to plead with drivers to slow down and pay attention to the road.

Shelly Pauletto died last week while crossing a street on foot. The 39-year-old leaves behind an 11-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son, as well as her husband Derek.

All drivers should heed the story of Shelly’s death as we’re all likely capable of making the same mistake the driver did in Calgary. The driver – who has not been charged – turned on a green light and hit Shelly just before she reached the curb.

It really could happen to any of us: we could be that driver or we could be that pedestrian.

Tackling unsafe driving, including speeding, is not easy. Putting more police on the roads is expensive. Speed cameras are politically unpopular. Public education can change behaviour in the short term, but it’s ultimately up to each of us to control our own actions.

We need to hear these very personal stories of how lives are lost and how the surviving family members are affected.

Unfortunately, the effects of any given story are fleeting. There’s no doubt well-meaning people will hear about Shelly’s death or the death of a driver or pedestrian in the community and adjust their driving in the short term, but changing long term behaviour will take a different level of effort.

From a young age, we are bombarded with images of cars. The images that stay with us are not of cars as simple transportation; a means to get from A to B. Instead we internalize advertising that says cars are cool, and fast cars are even cooler.

Car ads ask us to forget any concerns about physical risk and instead enter a make-believe land of skids, doughnuts, slalom courses and racetracks.

Next time you’re watching TV, check the car commercials and take note of how many use speeding and swerving to try and sell you the vehicle. Sure, some ads will tout safety or use humour, but many repeat the message that your car should be fast. How can we expect drivers – and future drivers – to ignore a message that is repeated over and over every day of their life?

If repetition of a message is what it takes to make us believe faster cars are better cars – and by inference, that driving faster is better – then our public education campaigns about safe driving have to be frequent and repetitive too.

Radio ads should feature victims’ family members, thanking us for driving safely, every morning and evening rush hour. TV, newspaper and online ads need to repeat the refrain that slowing down saves the lives of the ones you love. We need to see that message every day and in every medium.

It’s human nature to forget what’s not right in front of us. So keep people like Derek Pauletto, and his family’s loss, in front of us every day.

Image: Thinkstock

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