NMA Reboot: ‘It Can Wait” Campaign Making a Difference

This weekly post features recent news stories that highlight and update themes previously covered throughout NMA E-Newsletters and Alerts.

Editor’s Note: Four years after beginning its “It Can Wait” public awareness campaign to end texting while driving, AT&T continues to augment the program with its #X social media push. Since the campaign began more than five million drivers have pledged to not text and drive, awareness of the dangers of texting and driving is up to 97 percent of those surveyed, and there is evidence that the campaign is working to reduce texting-related accidents.

The NMA has long supported such public education campaigns as the most effective way to change distracted driving behavior. Enforcement has a limited impact and tends to become overbearing, and outright bans on use of handheld devices while driving have had no positive impact at all. The following NMA E-newsletter from September 2012 explains why public awareness campaigns are more effective than the alternatives:

E-Newsletter #192: It Can Wait

The most common “third rail” issue in modern politics – a position defined as being divisive enough to cause certain career electrocution – is Social Security reform. A close second, and on display this electoral season, is proposed modifications to Medicare benefits.

There are a couple of third rail issues that are always guaranteed to create a vigorous debate among NMA members. One is whether seat belt use should be mandatory or advisory. The other, and the topic of this newsletter, is whether texting while driving should be banned.

Distracted driving takes many forms, the vast majority of which help keep motorists sane and actually more attentive to the road. Show us a driver who focuses like a laser on nothing more than the road ahead, his side/rearview mirrors and the operating controls of his vehicle, and we’ll show you an operator who likely gets fatigued much faster than the average motorist.

The NMA position is clear: Distracted driving can best be addressed through efforts to educate the public about its dangers. Enforcement can be useful to a degree, but banning specific actions behind the wheel is unnecessary. Distracted driving is distracted driving, regardless of the cause. If a motorist demonstrates a lack of control of his vehicle and is a safety risk, there are distracted driving laws on the books of all states that allow law enforcement to pull that driver over.

Similarly, if a driver is simultaneously drinking a latte, trying to tune in his favorite talk radio program, and yelling at the driver in the next lane for not using turn signals properly, but is operating his car in a safe and responsible manner, laws should not be written that prejudge him as a safety risk.

That brings us back to texting while driving. Amidst texting bans in 39 states and the District of Columbia, and the call for more bans beyond those, it is refreshing that telecommunications giant AT&T has adopted an approach akin to the NMA’s: Driver education is the answer.

The company has invested millions of dollars in its “It Can Wait” campaign. The climax of the effort will be on September 19th, which AT&T is calling “No Text on Board – Pledge Day.” The goal is to discourage texting while driving via targeted public service announcements and through widely distributed educational materials.

This web page has been set up to provide easy access to a variety of information, including a teen-developed educational toolkit to help raise awareness in others. Some corporate sponsors have joined the AT&T campaign while other mobile companies such as Sprint and Verizon have launched their own no-texting-while-driving campaigns.

We applaud the corporate effort to educate the driving public about the possible dangers of texting while driving. Informed drivers are safer drivers. Meanwhile calls for stricter regulations against texting, particularly in light of a report last year by the Highway Loss Data Institute that found texting bans to be ineffective, are a reversion to “punish for effect” methods that are just as ineffective.

For more information about the AT&T campaign, visit www.itcanwait.com.


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