People are especially interested in circumstances affecting pet animals or small children. For example, more than a million dogs are killed in car crashes every year. Many of these animals have been greatly loved by the driver or a family member. This could be a newsworthy story — especially if it was the pet of a small child. The important thing for a representative of the shop to keep in mind is to not give the impression that this is an attempt to exploit a sad situation. Unless the story is funny and the vehicle owner is laughing about it too, a sad story has to have a positive appeal. If a pet is injured or killed, a story could appeal to viewers or readers to take greater pains to have a proper pet restraint in the vehicle. The same appeal could be made if a child is injured or killed and the seat belt or restraint was not being properly used. The story then has a public service message, but it can also reveal the name and concern of the shop and its owner.
A similar message could have value if the driver fell asleep at the wheel. Drowsy driving accounts for about 4 percent of all fatal crashes in the United States, or roughly 1,500 deaths each year. Researchers at the U.C., San Diego School of Medicine say that each year, potentially 980 lives could be saved and $11.1 billion in automobile-accident costs could be avoided if drivers who suffer from a disorder called obstructive sleep apnea were successfully treated. Half of the nation’s adults (51%) admit to driving while drowsy, reports the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Among 18 to 29 year olds, nearly one-quarter report actually falling asleep at the wheel at some point during the past year, compared with 15% of those aged 30-64, and 6% of people 65 and older. There are about 5,000 fatal accidents a year involving big trucks, but there is no good way to know how many are due to truck-driver fatigue.
“Driving while drowsy is no different than driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” says Richard Gelula, NSF’s Executive Director. “When you’re sleepy, your brain starts to shut down,” “But even before you actually nod off, performance slips.” Trying harder to stay awake may not help. Your thinking slows, you miss signals and risk-taking behavior increases. At 60 mph, if you close your eyes for only one second, you’ve traveled 88 feet. Will a driver who crashed as a result of falling asleep be willing to reveal that? And if so, would he or she be willing to have that story publicized, even to provide a positive public service message? Possibly not, but it can never hurt to ask, and if the driver is willing, this could be a great story featuring the shop in a positive light.
While these public service message stories may have the greatest value, the ones that are bizarre and often funny will be easier to get an agreement to publish. The driver who swerved and crashed to avoid hitting an armadillo that escaped from the zoo, or the homeowner who dropped a bucket of paint on his car while painting his house may be most willing to share in the laugh. The astute shop owner who thinks to pass these stories along to the press could enjoy an excellent bit of free publicity.