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McEvoy et al (2006) provide empirical evidence to support the case
that distractions for the driver are an important feature of road crashes.
There should be nothing too surprising in this; after all, many
authorities recognise that an enforcible code of behaviour must be applied
to public-service drivers; bus passengers are not likely to feel at ease
with a driver whose attention deviates from the task in hand.
The real problem is of course the private automobile driver, always a
difficult creature to control. No doubt, education would help. However,
this is an uphill task: for example, I imagine few would suggest that
restrictions on mobile-phone use in jurisdictions such as the UK have been
notably successful, even when backed up by punishment (1).
Nonetheless, one practice that seems unnecessarily gratuitous is the
portrayal of driving on TV: frequently, interviews or monologues to the
camera are undertaken while the speaker is driving, perhaps in fast-moving
and heavy traffic. Often, this adds absolutely nothing to the content of
the programme; for example, I can think of a recent monologue by the
presenter of a BBC TV programme about sites of battles that predate mass
car usage by many years!
In the UK, there has been much comment about driving-related
programmes - BBC's "Top Gear" is a prime example - which seem to promote a
cavalier attitude to road safety. I argue that the problem is more
insidious. Policies to control driver distractions might be given greater
legitimacy in the eyes of the driving public, if a strict code of conduct
could be imposed on the media, with the abolishment of programme
presentation while driving as a priority.
(1) Walker L, Williams J, Janrozik K. Unsafe driving behaviour and
four wheel drive vehicles: observational study. BMJ 2007 333:71