It’s Time to Own Colorado DOT’s #SafetyStartsWithAllOfUs Hashtag

Take over this absurd hashtag by attaching it to images and messages that show why safety actually starts when motorists stop speeding down streets while surfing the internet.

The Colorado Department of Transportation loves what it calls “safety campaigns.” Here’s how they work: The department spends a few hundred thousand of your dollars broadcasting a message to “educate” the public, as CDOT puts it, on how not to die. It’s basically a big expensive marketing campaign to deflect public attention from CDOT’s own responsibility to make streets safer.

There’s zero evidence that these education campaigns work. Traffic deaths have risen every year, statewide, since 2011.

They’re completely tone deaf and consistently sends the message that people struck by motorists have no one to blame but themselves. Your teacher, as it were, may be an actor hired to make people on foot look like bumbling idiots with a death wish. Or a sign scolding people for having the gall to look at their phones while out in public. Or a mascot handing out balloons.

This month CDOT is schooling the public real good by telling us what to wear via its #SafetyStartsWithAllOfUs social media campaign.

Here’s what CDOT tweeted under a photo of two women walking at dusk — one wearing a neon jacket with reflective slap bracelets, and one sporting a dark gray fleece:

In other words, if you don’t wear Day-Glo colors, it’s your fault if a driver peels around a corner while you have a walk sign and sends you to the ICU. Motorists, carry on.

It’s an old, discredited message that lays responsibility at the feet of the most vulnerable people on the street. For a window into CDOT’s thinking, look back to 2015, when agency communications staffer Sam Cole told Streetsblog, “We don’t have a direct campaign that says, ‘Drivers, be careful of pedestrians,’ because I think all drivers know they need to be careful about pedestrians.”

CDOT’s come a long way since then! So far the #SafetyStartsWithAllOfUS campaign mostly tells pedestrians to “be seen” and bicyclists to wear helmets, but — but! — the heroes at CDOT have also tweeted that motorists should yield to pedestrians. Twice!

If CDOT actually believes these campaigns move the needle, it should be doing a lot more to educate motorists. Drivers are the ones operating machines that killed 630 people last year. They’re the ones surfing the internet while speeding down public streets in two-ton metal boxes.

Safety does not start with everyone. Safety starts with motorists. So let’s take over CDOT’s #SafetyStartsWithEveryone hashtag and get a real safety message across instead of another counterproductive, canned PR campaign.

Satirical car enthusiast Bob Gunderson has given this alternative education campaign a kick start:

Here’s how Piep van Heuven, Bicycle Colorado’s Denver director, flipped the script:

Go ahead. Get on Twitter and Facebook and own this absurd hashtag — attach it to images and messages that show why safety actually starts with motorists speeding down streets, not people walking and biking.