(left to right) Mike Merrill, AOS executive director; Col. Hugh McCall, director, Alabama Department of Public Safety; and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.


Published 10/1/2012
Maureen Leahy

Get the Message: Don’t Text and Drive

AOS helps spread awareness of dangers of texting while driving to Alabama teens

Alabama recently became one of the first states in the nation to incorporate an anti-texting video into its high-school driver education curriculum. “Alabama Don’t Text and Drive” is the culmination of many months of effort, spearheaded by the Alabama Orthopaedic Society (AOS) and its executive director, Mike Merrill.

“The AOS had wanted for some time to initiate a community outreach program,” said Mr. Merrill. “We got the idea for an anti-texting and driving effort from the AAOS public service ‘OMG’ campaign, which educates the public on the dangers of texting while driving.”

In 2010, at the urging of the AOS and the Alabama Department of Public Safety (ADPS), then-governor Bob Riley issued a formal proclamation denoting December 2010 as “Don’t Text and Drive Month in Alabama.” But Mr. Merrill’s efforts didn’t end there.

With the governor leaving office and the ADPS director retiring, Mr. Merrill feared that the campaign would lose momentum. He made arrangements, therefore, to meet with the new ADPS director and representatives from the governor’s office, the state department of education, and the automobile industry to “keep this thing going.”

“We believed it was especially important to reach young drivers; together we canvassed all the driver education teachers in the state,” he said. “We asked them: ‘If you could have one educational tool to enhance your message to students about the dangers of texting and driving, what would it be?’ Nearly all them replied: ‘A professionally produced DVD.’”

A coordinated effort
Mr. Merrill recalled an AT&T public service announcement (PSA) he had seen in which teens and their families shared dramatic accounts of how texting while driving had forever changed their lives.

“It was very powerful; and that’s the whole point—to get the kids’ attention,” he said. “We asked AT&T for permission to use the PSA in our video and they agreed. We then reached out to the automobile industry for financial support—Toyota was on board with the idea from the start.”

“Toyota places a great deal of emphasis on teen driver education,” said Barbara McDaniel, manager, external affairs/government relations, Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America. “When we were approached about sponsoring the DVD, Toyota saw it as a great way to reinforce the anti-texting message to teens.”

“Alabama Don’t Text and Drive” begins with an introduction from Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Col. Hugh McCall, director of the ADPS, followed by the AT&T footage.

(left to right) Mike Merrill, AOS executive director; Col. Hugh McCall, director, Alabama Department of Public Safety; and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.

“The video is about 13 minutes in length—long enough to get the message across without losing the students’ interest,” said Mr. Merrill.

In addition to Toyota’s financial sponsorship, other supporters of “Alabama Don’t Text and Drive” include Gov. Bentley, AOS, AAOS, ADPS, and the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE). ALSDE is distributing the video to the approximately 450 high-school driver education programs in Alabama. Because the video was funded by Toyota, it didn’t cost the state a cent, according to Mr. Merrill. In addition, the video’s release to high schools coincided with legislation that went into effect on Aug.1, 2012, making it a crime to text and drive in Alabama.

“We are happy to be a part of getting this DVD into every Alabama driver education classroom and we commend the efforts of Alabama officials to provide a tool that hopefully will save many young lives,” said Ms. McDaniel.

“We couldn’t have done this without the help of all our supporters, especially the AAOS. They gave us the idea and we just ran with it,” said Mr. Merrill. “A lot of time and effort went into producing the video; but if it saves at least one teen’s life, it will be worth it.”

He added, “We hope the video will act as a catalyst for other societies that want to do something similar in their states.”

To view “Alabama Don’t Text and Drive,” visit http://youtu.be/mofGWZj7hF8

For information about the AAOS “Decide to Drive” campaign, visit www.decidetodrive.org

To order free distracted driving materials for your office, visit www.aaos.org/prresources

Maureen Leahy is assistant managing editor of AAOS Now. She can be reached at leahy@aaos.org