Archive for the ‘Legal and ethical issues’ Category

Effective today, it is illegal to send text messages and a secondary offense to receive text messages or emails while operating a motor vehicle in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Bout time, I say. Texting and driving is about as irresponsible and reprehensible as driving while intoxicated.

According to research conducted recently by textfreedriving.org, 57 percent of drivers admit to texting while driving, with the most active texters being 16- to 17-year-olds. That group has long led the nation in fatal car crashes, even before the prevalence of cell phones and texting capability.

While anyone with half a brain must assume texting while driving impairs the driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely, Car and Driver magazine decided to test if texting while driving is a dangerous idea.

In its August 2009 issue, Car and Driver says that previous academic studies, conducted in vehicle simulators, have shown that texting while driving impairs the driver’s abilities. But as far as Car and Driver knows, no studies have been conducted in a real vehicle that is being driven.

Further, Car and Driver decided to compare results of driving while texting to the effects of drunk driving on the same day and under the exact same conditions. The magazine decided to focus solely on the driver’s reaction times to a light mounted on the windshield at eye level, meant to simulate the brake lights of a car ahead.

The magazine rented an airport runway in Michigan. Test subjects were required to use devices with full “qwerty” keyboards commonly in use today. The test vehicle was a Honda Pilot SUV.

Test subjects were chosen to represent different age groups. One was a 22 year old armed with an iPhone. The other (there were only two) was 37 years old and used a Samsung Alias. A person rode along with each test subject and activated the red light, then recorded results using some sophisticated test equipment.

The reaction times of the subjects were first tested at 35 mph and 70 mph to get a baseline, then tested while they read aloud a text message. That was followed by a test in which the drivers typed that same text message while driving.

Anyone familiar with Car and Driver magazine knows that it can be highly irreverent. The next “test” shows us how zany these guys can get. They had the test drivers get slightly intoxicated drinking vodka and orange juice. They blew into a breath-alcohol analyzer until they reached the legal driving limit, then they ran the same brake light test at the speeds specified in the text messaging test.

The results? Without citing all the specific numbers, suffice it to say that reaction times while driving and texting were terrible. For example, in the younger subject’s slowest reaction time at 35 mph, he traveled an extra 21 feet while reading before hitting the brakes and 16 feet longer while texting. The older guy did worse in the text test at the same speed, traveling an extra 45 and 41 feet respectively before hitting the brakes.

Shockingly, the intoxicated numbers were better than the texting numbers, but Car and Driver says they only look better because the texting numbers were bloody awful.

The moral is clear: texting and driving is dangerous. Thankfully, Virginia recognized this and took action. Now we’ll see how enforcement goes.


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Towson’s fall semester begins September 2. Syllabi for my four classes are printed. Class rosters are ready for the first roll call. For weeks now, I’ve been planning lessons that hopefully will help my students learn to be competent communication/PR/IMC professionals.

But I also feel obligated to prepare my students for the “real world” of work and life in general. I wrote about this in the post below, “The Olympics has winners and losers, just like real life.” To effectively face that reality, students and practitioners alike must learn to make wise, ethical, and responsible choices. We all must do the right thing at all times. We must accept responsibility and be accountable for our actions. In so doing, we develop integrity.

Why is integrity important? Integrity, or probity, is all-important to living life responsibly, successfully, richly, fully, and eventually, as a self-actualized individual.

We have codes of ethics from IABC and PRSA to guide us in our work. Many of us have values that we derive from our spiritual beliefs to govern our personal conduct. And in the end, we must accept responsibility for our actions. That takes integrity.

How does this play out in the real world?

  • Students — study hard, follow instructions, do assignments on time, correctly, with attention to detail, show up on time to all classes ready to participate in a meaningful way, and do not cheat or plagiarize. Students who do this, who accept that they are responsible for their success, should achieve course objectives and score high grades.
  • Practitioners — devote themselves to continuous learning and professional development, do their assignments on time, correctly, with attention to detail, show up on time and participate in a meaningful way on the job, and practice ethically and morally. Practitioners who do this, who accept that they are responsible for their success, should achieve desired results and will earn higher salaries, bonuses, promotions, perks, and career advancement.

Common denominators with both groups are accepting responsibility, being accountable, and acting with integrity. These are fundamental ingredients for success.

Joe Gibbs, the famous football coach and owner of the NASCAR team, Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), provides us with a great lesson to support this thinking. NASCAR recently suspended seven of his crew members and stripped his drivers Tony Stewart and Joey Logano of 150 points each for cheating after last week’s Nationwide series race in Michigan. Two of JGR’s crew chiefs were suspended indefinitely and fined $50,000 each.

A man of integrity, Gibbs accepted the ruling and said he would not appeal the penalties. He apologized to all concerned, taking “100 percent” of the blame for his team. He also said he would take further disciplinary action against his team members.

Gibbs said that in 17 years of NASCAR racing, no representative of JGR ever knowingly acted outside of NASCAR rules. Gibbs is a man of honor and never would knowingly condone cheating to win. He does not need to. Gibbs’ cars have dominated the Nationwide series this season, winning 14 of 25 races.

Lessons learned: Gibbs runs his team and his life with integrity and accepts the responsibility and accountability for its and his own actions. So must students and practitioners (and instructors, too).

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“In responsibility both obedience and freedom are realized. Responsibility implies tension between obedience and freedom. There would be no more responsibility if either were made independent of the other.”

Dietrich Bonhoffer, “Freedom,” in Ethics

There comes a time when we have to adopt an ethical code to govern our lives. To live a professional life, as college prepares us for, is to learn responsibility. To live a responsible life is to live an ethical life. No matter what we do in life, no matter what our ultimate profession, an underpinning of ethics is necessary to be responsible.

Teachers are especially grounded in ethics. Education programs include healthy doses of ethics as part of the training.

Better communication/public relations programs include ethics as well. Towson’s PR Track includes a strong course in ethics. But beyond that one course, ethics is a subject taught in every one of my classes. In this time of heightened scrutiny of organizations due to such highly-publicized situations as the Enron and Worldcom scandals, to name just two, an ethical underpinning is critical to organizational success. No organization can have good PR in the absence of ethical business practice.

Where does it start? Where does an ethical perspective come from? Simply enough, I think the old saying, “if it is to be, then it begins with me,” fits nicely here. The college years are a great time for a future communication/PR practitioner or educator to form a personal ethical code.

John Dalla Costa said “to be ethical is first and foremost a choice.” Once this choice is made, a communicator/PR practitioner who chooses to practice ethically can look to IABC and PRSA for codes of ethics that will provide detailed guidance.

The same is true for educators. Codes of ethics are readily available from a variety of sources, including school boards. As a member of Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society for education, I have a network of top educators for advice and counsel plus many professional development opportunities.

But while there is a wealth of external guidance for ethics, I believe that adopting a personal code begins with an examination of who we are and what we believe. Much of this — if not all — is shaped by our own life experiences. Sometimes we must overcome early programming to behave ethically as adults. This requires reflection and self-examination. To practice ethically as a communication/PR professional or an educator, we must understand our own motivations and predispositions in order to challenge them if they interfere with our being able to act ethically.

Growing up is hard work, no matter what age we are. After much reflection, the underpinning of my own ethical code is simply this: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

To me, the Golden Rule is the golden key to living successfully, fully, and ethically.


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A Toronto university student was accused of cheating after he created an online study group on Facebook.

The first-year engineering student at Ryerson University escaped being expelled but received a zero on the assignments that he discussed on Facebook, or 10 percent of his final grade in the chemistry course. He was charged with 146 counts of academic misconduct for each classmate who used the Facebook forum. The student also received a “DN”, or disciplinary notice, on his student transcript and was required to be tutored on academic integrity.

At question was whether or not the student’s use of the online forum to compare notes and share homework tips and questions was cheating. The student thought it was legitimate. The student’s professor disagreed, saying that the online homework assignments were to be completed independently. The university agreed with the professor but ruled against expelling the student.

The student argued that if this was cheating, then so were all the university-sponsored tutoring and mentoring programs. One of the student’s supporters said the Facebook group was not any different than a group of students getting together in a library to work together in person, but rather than meeting face-to-face, it was all online.

This incident raises interesting questions. For example, it is pleasing to see Facebook used in an academic application, rather than just a repository for hedonistic photos and mindless applications.

The conflict lies in the professor’s instructions. It was reported that the professor stipulated the online homework questions were to be completed independently. If the professor made that clear to all students,  then the student was wrong to open a discussion online.

However, using Facebook to generate discussion and find solutions to academic problems is a good thing in my opinion. It seems to me that this incident is a catalyst to begin exploring Facebook for educational purposes.

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