As driving summit opens, AT&T launches anti-texting campaign

AT&T Inc. announced a campaign today to warn cell-phone users, especially teens, about the dangers of texting while driving in advance of a federal Distracted Driving Summit that kicks off in Washington on Wednesday.

The carrier said it will put warnings about texting on phones it sells before the holiday season and on signs in its stores. AT&T will also revise its policies to expressly prohibit texting while driving for its employees who drive as part of their job. AT&T is one of the country's largest employers, with 290,000 workers.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is expected to attend the two-day meeting as well as federal highway safety officials and researchers on cell phone use while driving.

Information about the dangers of texting while driving is being included in defensive driving classes. Public service announcements are also planned to bring home the message to the public.

The campaign will be announced today by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson at the Detroit Economic Club, AT&T said. "Our goal is to send a simple, yet vital, message to all wireless users: Don't text and drive," Stephenson said in a statement.

All the major wireless carriers have campaigns opposing texting while driving, although the companies vary on their views about laws banning the practice. AT&T and others carriers want to take advantage of the timing before the summit, which AT&T will attend and support.

But an AT&T spokesman said the carrier has decided to let the public decide its position on proposed legislation. Pending in the U.S. Senate is a bill to require states to ban texting while driving or face the partial loss of federal highway funds. "We think the decision as to whether there is specific legislation required is up to the public and to their legislators," the spokesman said in an e-mail today.

The bill, called the ALERT Driving Act , was introduced in July and would require states to ban drivers from sending text or e-mail messages or risk losing 25% of their federal highway funds each year they fail to comply.

AT&T said in July, before it had reviewed the ALERT legislation, that it was generally supportive of legislation prohibiting texting while driving, but did not explain its apparent shift today.

Verizon Wireless supports the legislation, while Sprint Nextel said it hadn't taken a position, but has long argued for better driver education to urge drivers not to text and drive.

The financial sanctions in the bill caused the Governors Highway Safety Association to oppose the measure.

Currently, 14 states have various laws that ban texting while driving, which some research studies have found greatly impairs a driver's ability to drive safely. One recent study found that the risk of getting into an accident is 23 times higher when texting while driving.

Some groups argue that more laws won't help. Vlingo Corp., which makes a mobile voice application, today released data from a survey of 4,800 people that showed little or no impact from state bans on driver behavior. Vlingo's view is that laws are hard to enforce, making hands-free technology all that more important.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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