AT &T scores with anti-texting and driving campaign

By Chairman Hersman

During coverage of the 2012 Olympics, AT&T launched a bold public service campaign aimed at reducing distracted driving. The powerful ads, “TXTING & DRIVNG… IT CAN WAIT”, were aired during peak coverage of the games. And the message resonated with people. The powerful ads were the subject of great discussion on blogs, websites, Facebook and Twitter – exactly the response one seeks when launching a public service campaign – create a dialog.

I’m glad that AT&T has engaged in the debate. Well done!

At the NTSB, our charge is to investigate accidents, learn the cause and recommend changes to prevent them from occurring again. The one constant we see: crashes happen in the blink of an eye. And for the last decade, we have investigated deadly accidents involving distracted drivers and operators, across all modes of transportation. We’ve seen lives lost. In the blink of an eye. In the typing of a text. In the push of a send button.

The NTSB identified distraction due to text messaging as the cause of a commuter train engineer running a red signal near Chatsworth, California, on September 12, 2008. The result: a head-on collision with a freight train. Twenty-five people died and dozens were injured. The engineer, who had a history of using his cell phone for personal communications while on duty, sent and received 250 text messages during the three days leading up to the accident.

In another accident the NTSB investigated, the driver of a tractor-trailer truck made 97 calls and received 26 more during the 24 hours preceding the accident. In the half hour prior to the crash, the driver spent 14 minutes—nearly half his time—on the phone. Ten people died that day after the truck crossed the median and crashed into a passenger van.

Last December, after completing an investigation into a multi-vehicle highway accident in Gray Summit, Mo., where a pickup driver, who had been texting, slammed into the back of a truck and set off a series of collisions that killed two people, the NTSB issued its strongest recommendation yet.

The NTSB called for the 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices for all drivers. A bold, yet necessary recommendation that if implemented, will curb the carnage of distraction.

Yet even with company policies, widespread public education campaigns, and, in some places, laws to minimize distractions like texting bans or cell phone use, many people continue to think, “I’ll make this quick call” or “I’ll send a brief text message.”

This behavior is unsafe and unacceptable. It is time to change public tolerance for distracted operations, and elevate society’s disapproval for drivers who use devices while behind the wheel.

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