A Tallahassee journalism professor has given his class a real-world exercise in the political process. His class members are bringing all the latest media methods to bear on reducing the problem of distracted driving, and convincing the Florida Legislature to do something about it.
On this Tuesday morning in early April, TCC’s Reggie Grant seemed more like a combination circus ringmaster and whirling dervish as he counseled his mass media class.
“A couple of your colleagues mentioned that they’d like to have a debrief,” he announced as the students settled in.
The class numbers nearly 20 students. One of them is was putting the finishing touches on an on-line video.
“There’s the visual distraction, there’s the manual distraction and there’s the cognitive distraction,” the voiceover announcer intoned at the start of the video.
The student working on the video, Brittany Defran, said the entire project is a multi-media campaign to discourage distracted driving, especially texting while driving.
“This is a big issue that’s rising because so many people are doing it and not everybody realizes that you’re doing it,” she said, while manipulating a series of images on her laptop. “It’s so easy to be distracted while you’re driving. So just to remind people to be cautious about that is really important.”
But beyond changing behavior, Defran explained the idea is to change Florida law.
“As awareness is brought to it and more people fight for the laws to be harsher on distracted driving, I think more people will be more prone to think twice before texting and driving or driving distracted,” she said.
Once again, the Florida Legislature is contemplating a bill that would make distracted driving a primary offense, meaning law enforcers would need no other reason to pull over an offender. There will be a rally at Tallahassee Community College in support of the measure on April 20th. And that’s what student Jack Cook was working on.
“Going through and filtering through and finding the right image for an online post so we can get people to come out and support this event,” he said.
Cook’s project partner Cody Sellers added this requires a lot of thought and coordination to maximize the audience impact.
“We’ll come up with a statistic on distracted driving and we have to find a picture that will match the fact and at the same time it’s hard because you have to find the right resolution and distortion and stuff like that,” Sellers said.
Close by, Amelia Piotrowski was in charge of the project’s Facebook presence.
“People live on social media and anytime that you’re bored or anything like that the first thing you do is grab your phone and look on social media, so obviously if it’s there, it’s going to reach everybody,” Piotrowski insisted.
Still, Professor Reggie Grant believed it’s real-life examples of what distracted driving can cause that has the most visceral impact.
“A 20-year old I believe it was killed 12 or 13 people in Texas. He admitted to the fact he was texting and driving; I mean, just 12 people gone. This is ridiculous!” he exclaimed.
At the beginning, Grant said he wasn’t sure just how his students would respond to the project.
“I was just really happy that the students have taken to this and we’ve had our challenges. This has definitely not been one of those assignments where everything’s been easy. But with those challenges, I think there’s been some amazing stuff that’s going on.”
And among those things, there’s been a commitment that the distracted driving bill’s House sponsors, Emily Slosberg of Delray Beach and Richard Stark of Weston – both Democrats – would attend the on-campus rally on the 20th.