The telecom giant has designated Sept. 19 as the date for its national pledge drive, but is urging users in the meantime to visit the site it has set up for the "It Can Wait" campaign, offering a link to the pledge and other resources emphasizing the message that "no text is worth dying for."
"We've come to a situation where people are using the technology in ways that are literally dangerous," AT&T CEO Randal Stephenson said in a video describing AT&T's efforts to curb users' texting habits. "And we have young people being injured, we have young people being killed by not being responsible in terms of how they use this technology."
AT&T cited a study by the National Safety Council tallying 100,000 car accidents each year that involved a driver who was texting.
Alarming statistics like those have caught the attention of government agencies and industry groups, which have been developed their own education and public-safety campaigns. CTIA, the principal trade group representing the wireless industry, has for the past several years been running a series of multimedia ads warning against using mobile devices while driving.
CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent hailed AT&T's It Can Wait campaign, calling it one of the "vital and effective components to the industry's mission of creating a safer driving environment."
The head of the Department of Transportation, which has been waging its own efforts to curb texting while driving, was similarly effusive.
"Distracted driving is an epidemic on our roadways, and we need people all across America to take action in their communities to help put a stop to it," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "I applaud AT&T for taking on this issue with the 'It Can Wait' campaign, and I thank them for helping to spread the word that no text or email is worth the risk."
Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, touted the campaign's potential to "help make texting and driving as unacceptable as drinking and driving."
"All of us must be part of the solution, recognizing that while mobile technologies offer enormous benefit, they create new challenges we must tackle together," Genachowski said.
As part of the It Can Wait initiative, AT&T plans to launch what it describes as a full-bore awareness campaign, running ads on social media sites Facebook and Twitter and enlisting television and music celebrities to speak out on the issue.
AT&T said it will concentrate television advertising on high-profile events and programs that cater to teenage audiences. The firm also said that it will aim to distribute an informational toolkit with resources about texting while driving to every high school in the country.
In a recent survey that AT&T conducted, 97 percent of teenagers polled acknowledged that texting while driving is dangerous, but 75 percent said that the practice was "common" among their friends.
AT&T is calling on its 240,000 employees to commit to its pledge, and plans to instruct its retail and call-center employees to help spread the message to consumers.
Additionally, AT&T is calling on device makers and app developers to collaborate on technology that would be pre-loaded in handsets to counter texting while driving, building on applications such as the drive mode app that AT&T currently offers, which when enabled sends an automatic response to an incoming text message indicating that the user is behind the wheel.
"The public is going to begin to see how serious we are about this" Stephenson said.
Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com.
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