A bit of great news has come from the four top cell phone companies. The Associated Press, in a story that appeared at the CBS news site and other places, reported that AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile are mounting a joint campaign against texting while driving.
I blogged on texting and driving last week. The post was in response to a couple of reports – from The Cohen Children’s Medical Center and The National Safety Council – that said, respectively, that texting while driving is a big problem and that it almost certainly is under reported. The post noted that the type of exposure gun safety is getting is necessary to confront texting while driving.
The campaign announced by the four carriers – which will use AT&T’s “It Can Wait” slogan – is a great step, if they deliver as promised. The story says that the campaign is slated to run until September, but could be extended. It sounds far reaching:
Beyond TV and radio ads, the new campaign will stretch into the skies through displays on Goodyear's three blimps. It will also include store displays, community events, social-media outreach and a national tour of a driving simulator. The campaign targets teens in particular.
Don’t underestimate the power of public education. There are many examples of education being one element of fully or partly successful drives to change behavior. Examples include drives urging people to use seat belts, eat better and stop smoking and drinking while driving. In each case, education only is one of several tactics. Legal penalties generally follow. In the case of cigarettes, the explosion in the price per pack also played a big role.
The AP story is a bit curious. It makes the good point that texting is only one element of distracted driving, alongside activities such as chatting with friends, other use of phones and eating. It does so, however, in a way that tends to minimize the danger of the texting element.
The campaign is a good start, but there is a lot of work to do. In two out of many similar recent new items, the Los Altos Patch reported that the California Highway Patrol issued 394 tickets during April for distracted driving in the area from Mountain View to near Gilroy. WJLA, the WABC affiliate in the Washington, D.C., area, reported that nearly all participants in a survey run by the AAA and Transurban reported seeing distracted drivers in the Dale City, Va., area. That is particularly disturbing because the 29-mile area is a construction zone.
Some attention is being paid on the legal front. The Courier-News, a publication of the Chicago Sun-Times, reports that the Illinois General Assembly may up the ante for drivers. Currently, the story said, hitting a pedestrian or another vehicle carries a fine of $120 and a mandatory court appearance. House Bill 285 – an initiative started by the Illinois State Police after a man was killed by a distracted driver while changing a tire – would make killing a pedestrian a Class 4 felony. Injuring the pedestrian would become a Class A criminal misdemeanor.
The AP story on the joint effort quotes AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson’s opinion that CEOs across the industry are concerned about the issue and that the pooling of resources by the four biggest carriers will be more effective than each working on its own. I hope the first assertion is true and certainly agree with the second. Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future an individual texting behind the wheel will be as rare as somebody lighting up a Marlboro in a crowded restaurant.