AT&T to Spend Tens of Millions to Promote Safe Texting

Texting while driving contributes to nearly 100,000 crashes causing injury or death per year. Loathe to be held responsible for such a grim statistic, AT&T has announced a campaign to stop texting while driving as well as an app to help curb the practice.

AT&T announced a new public awareness effort today as part of its ongoing “It Can Wait” initiative to bring attention to the dangers of texting while driving. The campaign calls for people to make a lifelong commitment to safe texting. It will culminate with a “No Text On Board” pledge day on September 19. 

Texting while driving is especially prevalent among teenagers. An AT&T survey showed that 97% of teens say texting and driving is “common” among their friends. About 89% of teens expect to reply to a text or an email on their phones within five minutes or less, whether or not they are driving. It is not just young people, though, as 77% of teens in the survey reported seeing their parents texting while driving.

Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be in an accident, a study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute research department concluded.

AT&T is encouraging its 240,000 employees to take the pledge. The company also will enlist celebrities to spread the word through TV ads, concerts, public appearances and social media channels. Plans call for an aggressive push on Facebook and Twitter to promote the pledge, which can be tracked through the #itcanwait hashtag. 

AT&T’s “It Can Wait” program started in 2009, and consumers have likely already seen TV ads or heard radio spots telling people not to text and drive. AT&T is doubling down on its commitment to the issue this fall and will spend “tens of millions” of dollars on the campaign, according to a company representative. 

AT&T is not alone in campaigning for awareness of the toll exacted by distracted drivers. The CTIA trade association, the largest wireless trade group in the United States, made texting from behind the wheel its cause of the year in 2011. Verizon has had a campaign against texting while driving since 2009. Sprint released an app called Drive First in 2011 that automatically locks a phone from incoming messages when it is in a car traveling faster than 10 mile per hour. T-Mobile includes a similar function into many of the devices it sells. 

The AT&T DriveMode app was released to the Android Google Play and BlackBerry App World stores today with the promise of more platforms soon, including iOS and Windows Phone. When the app is active, it disables some of the phone's functions such as notification sounds for incoming texts, email and phone calls. It also sends a reply message letting people know that you are driving and will get back to them. Texts and emails cannot be sent when DriveMode is active and it will only allow people to accept and send phone calls to and from five people.