Is this driver really the only one responsible for his problem?

It was a murder mystery. That’s how New York Times journalist Matt Richtel, who won a Pulitzer Prize this year for his reporting on cell phones and distracted driving, described the series of articles. After reading his writings for over a year, we heard him speak and share background stories about the special series at a conference this week.

This murder mystery angle got me thinking about public health and injustice and personal responsibility. In public health we usually seek to reduce and erase injustices. However so many issues, such as car crashes, are incorrectly pegged as issues of only personal responsibility.

Matt’s investigation into how a fatal crash involving texting happened took him decades into the past when cell phones were first created as car phones. Then he traced a path through industry and government decisions to the present, where we now lose thousands of people a year in crashes involving cell phones. He showed how distracted driving could be a true public health issue of injustice.

For those who think the issue is only one of personal responsibility, you need to trace what led to people’s personal decisions about using cell phones in vehicles.

Cartoon from National Safety Council


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