On Friday April 30, television superstar Oprah Winfrey lent her powerful voice to the fight against distracted driving in celebration of “No Phone Zone Day.” Oprah has been chronicling the dangers of texting, typing, and talking while driving since January, when she dedicated her show to the underreported statistics: 6,000 people are killed and 500,000 are injured in accidents caused by distracted driving.
Set to ominous music, an ad promoting the event states “You would not get behind the wheel drunk. Driving while using a cell phone is no different,” while Oprah declares enthusiastically that her viewers are “rising up together and putting an end to distracted driving.”
Oprah dedicated Friday’s entire show to the event, packed with stories from the families of victims affected by distracted driving, and video from rallies in 27 states and the District of Colombia. “My biggest hope for the No Phone Zone campaign,” said Oprah in a statement, “is that it becomes mandatory that no one uses their phone in the car or texts while driving — just as seat belts are mandatory, just as driving while drunk is considered absolutely taboo, I’m hoping that this become not just law, but second nature for all of us.”
Last week, in an op-ed for the New York Times, Oprah described the genesis of her dedication to curbing the dangerous habit. While working as a TV reporter in the 70s, she watched in horror as drunk driving grew from a rare occurrence to a constant reality. Before long, she wrote, “The country, all of us, had gotten used to the idea of drunken driving.” Because no one thinks the worst will happen to them, we’ve gotten used to distracted driving in much the same way.
The high-profile cabal Oprah has assembled to support the campaign includes Sir Elton John, Jerry Seinfeld, the cast of teen TV sensation Glee, and Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood. In an article posted on change.org last week, Lahood called distracted driving “a deadly epidemic,” that has become “perhaps the least recognized public safety crisis of the 21st century.”
Fortunately, parents, teens, and state governments are growing more conscious of the epidemic. California lawmakers intend to increase the fines for texting, typing, and talking while driving, and consumer safety organizations have developed resources to help teenagers be safer behind the wheel. Take a look at distracted driving simulators and Oprah’s interactive map of state-by-state phone laws for more information on how to mitigate the dangers of the number one killer of teenagers.