Wednesday, April 1, 2020

State's Public Health PSA Campaign Shines Accidental Light on Road Safety Messaging

State of Oregon "stay home" campaign
The State rolled out a PSA campaign a couple of days ago created in partnership with venerable ad agency Weiden + Kennedy. One of the slogans is "Don't accidentally kill someone."

It is interesting, though not surprising, that they didn't ring variations on their most famous slogan, "Just Do It."

Why not "Just Stay Home"?

Well, we know why. Doubtless the corporation that benefits from "Just Do It" would not want to share any mood, any proximity to the implied economics of "Just Stay Home." In that context, "Just Stay Home" might operate as a critique of consumer capitalism. Can't be doing that!

An earlier logo
I prefer the mood of the logo with the Governor's Executive Order, the green silhouetted state with a front door closed and the lights on. That seems more patriotic somehow. It's less forceful, without the scolding, but also more encouraging. (It's almost Kinkadian, a positive variation on that nostalgic kitsch.) "Together, we can do this." It prompts pride and solidarity in a way "don't kill" does not.

I don't know. It will be interesting to see how the "don't kill" message is received and shared. Maybe its target audience requires the stronger medicine.

It is also interesting to consider why we shy away from this message in the context of road safety.

"Don't accidentally kill someone" applies to driving and our prevailing way of normalizing crashes as accidents. It could be followed with, "Don't drive unless you have to. Walk, bike, or bus if you can. If you must drive, drive slowly and carefully." Why don't we make driving the problematic choice, the choice of last resort and the choice that requires extra care? For safety, health, and climate.

"No big deal" March 24th, via Twitter
This is the opposite of the move that some Know-Nothing pundits and presidents had made just days ago. We tolerate some annual number of car "accidents" and deaths, they said, and we don't shut down the roads; since this "flu" is hardly more dangerous we should not shut down the economy. Of course events have overtaken this pernicious and false framing.

But our "stay home" messaging implies many pandemic deaths are in fact preventable, and we have a moral duty to prevent them. If many road deaths are also preventable, why do we not act more strongly in ways to prevent these?

Mr. Lauritson "accidentally killed" Mrs. Brummett here in 1919
Here's an "accident" on State Street in front of the old Carnegie Library. It describes Mrs. Brummett as "killed by auto" and "accidentally killed." Even though it is described as an "accident," Mrs. Brummett's decision to chase after her hat when the wind blew it off is assigned as the fatal error, and the fault implied to be hers. Here's the very first description from August 15th, which set the tone for the rest of the coverage:
Mrs. Brummett was walking east on State street and just as she came in front of the library, her hat blew off. Rushing out into the street to get her hat, she ran directly in front of the auto, driven by Mr. Lauritson, also going east.
Even as an "accident," it's framed as practically suicide. The walking was the problematic choice, not the driving.

Today we still favor the driver in descriptions of people "running/biking directly in front of the auto" giving the drivers no time to react, and rarely ask if the speed of the driver was reasonable for an urban setting, where other road users, including wayward children, should be expected.

August 16th, 1919

August 17th, 1919

Maybe we'll see something like this sometime

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