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Documentary takes on texting-while-driving tragedies

Matt Hamblen | Aug. 12, 2013
But the Safety Council believes better laws and stricter enforcement are needed.

Based on the NSC's estimate, about 240,000 crashes a year are the result of texting while driving, although the It Can Wait website uses an apparently older number of 100,000-plus.

Ulczycki said that while the NSC prefers stronger laws and better enforcement, the wireless carriers "are really working hard on this issue.... I don't paint them as bad guys."

AT&T said Thursday that it backs state efforts to restrict texting while driving; other carriers have taken similar positions, but could not be reached for comment.

Technology has evolved to help with the problem -- somewhat. AT&T offers a DriveMode app for Android and BlackBerry AT&T customers that uses GPS to block texts and calls when a vehicle goes faster than 25 mph. Other carriers offer similar technology.

This AT&T video shows how the DriveMode app can curb texting and driving.

The NSC also agrees with a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finding released in June that opposes newer technologies that require the use of voice commands while driving, since that action still causes dangerous distractions.

Ulczycki believes it will take years for texting and driving behaviors to change. It took decades for Americans to start wearing seat belts in greater numbers, all as a result of tough laws passed by states in the 1980s and greater enforcement of those laws in the 1990s, he said.

"We know from other campaigns that education by itself does not change behaviors for most Americans," he said. In a similar fashion, knowing about the dangers of smoking or drunk driving didn't cause a lot of people to stop their behaviors, he said.

State laws and policies of employers helped bring about seat belt enforcement, he said. Compliance went from 14% when seat belts were first installed in cars in 1966 to 61% with the first laws in the 1980s to 86% today after a "Click it or Ticket" enforcement campaign took effect in 1995, Ulczycki said.

"Texting is very comparable, with less than 15% saying they have stopped texting since anti-texting campaigns began," he said.

People in the 1960s used to say that it would be difficult to get people to wear seat belts or stop smoking, but things have improved, he said. "It's probably going to take a long time to stop texting and driving, and took 30 to 40 years to get people to wear seat belts while driving. This effort might take longer, but we have to try."

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said that wireless carriers are left in the position of educating drivers, especially younger ones. "Educating drivers is a good idea and better than doing nothing," he said. "It's not the carrier's place to force anything on drivers -- that's the regulator's job. It's ultimately up to all of us to either live with the situation as it is, or make the regulators change it."


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