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UM Student-Produced Documentary on Distracted Driving to Premiere on MontanaPBS

May 13, 2014

MISSOULA – Every year, thousands of people die on the streets and highways of the United States because of distracted drivers. Hundreds of thousands are injured. Campaigns and laws aim to reduce that number, but are they making any difference?

Seniors in the University of Montana School of Journalism’s Department of Radio-Television have produced a TV program exploring the impact of distracted driving on Montanans. The documentary features a busy Missoula mom who has trouble giving up her cell phone, a Kalispell business owner whose life never will be the same and a Sidney teenager whose tragedy is forcing a town to take a hard look in the mirror.

 “Distracted: Eyes Off the Road” documents the culture of distraction among Montanans and explores what it will take to change. Cell phone laws are in place in a dozen Montana cities and counties, but cell phone use accounts for a fraction of the distracted-driving incidents.

Producer Conor Ballantyne, a senior from Plains, said he was surprised to learn that something as simple as a conversation can turn the brain away from driving.

“Viewers will come away understanding more about how we, as drivers, don’t pay attention to what we’re doing,” Ballantyne said.

Drivers eat and drink, adjust radios and controls, tend to children and pets and find all sorts of tasks to attend to while they’re driving. That behavior can mean a brush with the law or a tragic death, but the problem does not seem to be getting better. The documentary will show how the brain works when trying to multitask behind the wheel and why drivers often don’t see what’s right in front of them.

“People are so used to this behavior they don’t realize how dangerous it really is,” said director Max Barnum, a senior from Lake Forest, Ill.

“Distracted: Eyes Off the Road” will air on MontanaPBS at 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 20. For more information visit the documentary’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/eyesofftheroad.

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Contact: Denise Dowling, interim dean, UM School of Journalism, 406-243-4143, denise.dowling@umontana.edu.