When campaigns don't matter
Public interest campaigns are critical. They help mobilize funds. They leverage policy. The can raise public awareness. Sometimes, but not always, they change behavior.
Behavior can change if targets are predisposed and able. Predisposition presupposes an added value for changing. We change because we will benefit. Ability implies having the resources or competence to change. Using a condom is within the reach of all men who choose to use them. Smoking, though an addiction, is not good for you. It’s feasible to have a good reason to stop. It is not always easy to quit, but it is doable.
But today I have discovered that not all behavior can be changed with campaigning, notably Washington DC area driving. I had heard it was bad. I had no idea how bad.
I’ve only been here a few months. Since arriving, I have almost been hit twice as a pedestrian. As a driver, I’ve avoided two accidents. My wife was almost hit at a crossing. And my worst nightmare, right downstairs, on her way to the school bus, my youngest daughter came within inches of a high speed hit. Of course now I keep hearing about the bad driving. For instance, a few weeks ago the Washington transit authority, WMATA, released a series of on-board videos showing multiple accidents caused by bus drivers. Apparently, an insurance company study, confirmed that the DC area was the US metropolitan area with the most accidents per car on the road. So far, I have seen about ten bus drivers texting while they drive. Inside the bus is no safer. I have fallen twice courtesy of insane braking practices.
One of my theories is the diversity of origins in DC. The capital attracts working men and women from all fifty states and from every country on Earth. As a result, you have an endless diversity of driving styles. Some are fast, some slow, some aggressive, some borderline comatose.
Which brings me back to my campaign point. Would a campaign change the danger level? To some degree, it might but what happens when the problem comes from capacity and not attitude? When that happens what you need is education, not information. I believe that in the case of DC drivers, there needs to be compulsory refresher courses. At the very least, drivers should retake their theory. Allowing people to just trade in their foreign license (not all of them) is an open door to disaster. This is not a case of simply deciding to drive better, they need to learn how to, for instance, use the right on red rule. This applies to both those who learned to drive with the rule, and those who discovered it late in life. Those who learned with it tend to be very aggressive. It’s a given and so they just go, often with pedestrians still in the walk way. It’s as though they just care about oncoming cars, pedestrians can wait or be run over with minor damage to the car! As for those who come from countries and states with no right on red, they either block the lane by not turning or enter it with such timidity that cars regularly rear end them.
In the meantime, until DC driving gets so bad that the President declares a national emergency, I will look both ways, look again, update my will, call my wife to tell her I love her, keep the phone out with my finger on the 911 speed dial and then cross the road running as though my life depended on it. Wait, it does.