20 March 2014

US anti-text/drive cuts accidents by 32,000

#driverdistraction. A movement aimed at young drivers in the US to stop them texting while driving has had a nationwide positive impact on a relatively small budget, writes Brian Byrne.

'Texting & Driving — It Can Wait' is the slogan of the programme initiated by the US's biggest telecoms carrier, AT&T. It was the result of what the company saw as a 'national epidemic' of texting while driving, and which was clearly resulting in a very large number of serious accidents.

"Our research showed that more than four in ten teen drivers texted while driving," the company's Michelle Kucklemann told today's RSA Road Safety Conference on the theme of Driver Distraction, held in Dublin Castle. "We also found that 77 percent of them had watched their parents doing the same thing."

The programme was initiated in 2011 with a series of simple but graphic public service TV advertisements showing the human results of crashes by teen drivers because they were distracted by texts.

A documentary was also produced and shared on social media, again showing the serious, sometimes terminal, results of texting while driving.

"In the campaign we asked them to look at their last text and ask themselves if they thought that text was worth losing their lives, or causing catastrophic consequences to others," Michelle Kucklemann said. "We weren't lecturing to them, just giving them the opportunity to learn that the ball was in their court. It was a public service campaign on the consequences of an insignificant text."

Over the next two years, the campaign was extended by providing a social media platform where people could tell their own stories on the issue. A 'pledge' system was set up where drivers could make a public pledge not to use their phones while driving, or share a car with other drivers who did.

With a limited budget, AT&T's people leveraged its own staff, and other companies within its supply chain, to promote the programme. After an approach from one competitor to join in, the telecom asked it other competitors and now the four biggest telecoms in the US are promoting the campaign.

Now, some four million people have taken the pledge, and research suggests that the campaign has cut accidents in the US by nearly 8 percent, around 32,000 incidents.

Michelle Kucklemann said that the campaign has also flowed to the parents of the teen drivers targeted, further spreading the message.

And in one response to it, an AT&T staff member has come up with a smartphone app that automatically blocks texts coming in while it senses that it is in a moving vehicle.