LOS ANGELES — When Margot Grabie’s husband, an avid cyclist, repeatedly voiced his concern over oblivious drivers texting while at the wheel, she decided to develop a mobile app as a deterrent. But as development dragged on, she simply took a washable window paint marker and turned her car into a mobile billboard.
“My campaign wasn’t planned. It just happened,” Grabie says.
At DriveEasy.com, her DIY campaign provides free washable markers to raise “awareness against distracted driving one driver at a time.” The idea? To encourage drivers to ditch their phones while behind the wheel.
“Unfortunately, as people become more dependent on their phones, it’s hard for them to put them down even when driving,” says the Orthodox entrepreneur.
Her simple admonitions, “Just drive. Don’t text.” and “Drive now. Text later.” have set off a grassroots campaign that has gripped Los Angeles and, via social media, well beyond as others began inquiring how to obtain a washable marker. To date, she has shipped out about 200 pens, some donated, some at her own expense. Because each pen can be used repeatedly, she can’t estimate how many drivers have joined the campaign but she is pleased with the results, which landed television coverage from the local CBS affiliate.
“I feel like everyone has the power to make change,” she says in the TV segment. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, with emails from as far away as Australia requesting markers and sharing feedback and personal stories of loss due to distracted drivers. Other emails come from fellow concerned citizens, who also want to put an end to distracted driving.
‘People will comment on my window message which initiates conversation about the issue’
When she’s out driving, the handwritten message organically draws honks and thumbs up from fellow drivers.
“People will comment on my window message which initiates conversation about the issue,” she says. “Raising awareness is a large part of the solution.”
Since Grabie posted her first note at the end of April, she has connected with many people directly affected through injury or loss.
“For the person who is writing on their car, they will become more conscious of themselves since they can’t be a hypocrite and use their phone when driving. And for those who are not ready to put the message on their window, that’s okay. In the meantime, the gentle reminders they see on people’s car will encourage them to make the right decision to put their phone down when driving.”
In the past, several other campaigns attempted to end texting while driving. Oprah Winfrey championed a campaign. As did AT&T.
“Most people will say that texting and driving is wrong, but they know how to do it safely. However, I think that all these campaigns lack ‘in the moment’ influence,” she says. “Most people need to be reminded in the moment they are behind the wheel texting. My campaign is effective since it uses handwritten personalized messages to influence drivers to put their phones down. People by nature are curious and want to read what it says.”
‘For the person who is writing on their car, they will become more conscious of themselves since they can’t be a hypocrite and use their phone when driving’
Her husband, Ezra, an avid cyclist training for the Bike4Chai charity ride in early August to raise money for seriously ill children to attend summer camp at Camp Simcha, was the impetus to take action.
“I worry about his safety,” she says. “He tells me how he sees people texting and driving and sometimes don’t see him.”
“For the person who is writing on their car, they will become more conscious of themselves since they can’t be a hypocrite and use their phone when driving. And for those who are not ready to put the message on their window, that’s okay. In the meantime, the gentle reminders they see on people’s cars will encourage them to make the right decision to put their phone down when driving.”
A resident of Hancock Park, Grabie is a graduate of LA’s Yeshiva University High School and Cal State University, Northridge. She now runs two sites that markets sewing supplies, SewingPatterns.com and BroomTrunk.com. The 33-year-old is also a mother of four children between the ages of 12 and 2.
“My kids now know that texting and driving is wrong. They speak up if they are in a car with an adult who is texting and driving. Their friends tell their parents they want to have writing on their car, too, so they can be safe. It’s very cute,” she says.
‘My oldest is 12 and in just a few years will be driving, so I want to be a good example for her’
“My oldest is 12 and in just a few years will be driving, so I want to be a good example for her. Kids copy behaviors they see and I want to make sure that she’s safe the day she begins driving,” says Grabie.
Poor examples are plentiful. In one incident, a bus driver was texting before a fatal crash that killed two children and a teacher.
“This accident really scared me,” says Grabie. “How many of our children have been on a bus? I’ve corresponded with the mother of Seraya Glasper [a child killed in the bus crash] and she is a very strong person.” The mother has reportedly forgiven the driver, who has since apparently died of natural causes.
An Orthodox Jew, Grabie identifies strongly with several ancient teachings about concern for her fellow drivers. The statement, “Kol Yisrael areivim zeh l’zeh,” (we are all intertwined with one other), for example, has led her to conclude this also applies to safe driving.
“I think we all have the responsibility to keep one another safe especially when driving,” she says. And referring to Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:1 (22a), she is also fond of the statement, “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”
“Through my efforts, if I have been able to save even one person, then I did my job,” she says. (To help fund the project, Grabie is collecting donations online. More information is available at Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.)
But like a good Jewish mother, Grabie also employs a bit of guilt.
While filmed by CBS2, Grabie wrote on her rear car window: “My kids ask you to not text and drive.”