By Sue Botos
For most people, it’s hard to resist that little “ping” announcing the arrival of a text message on a mobile device. An answer or at least a quick peek is expected, especially with teens, for whom texting has become a routine way to communicate – even behind the wheel of a car. According to statistics, more than 100,000 accidents a year are caused by drivers texting.
In August, AT&T launched the “It Can Wait” campaign, with the goal of educating the public, especially teens, about the dangers of texting while driving, and established Sept. 19 as “No Text on Board Pledge Day.” On that day, the communications giant urged the public to take the pledge at www.itcanwait.com, and then share their promise to join the “no texting while driving” movement, which was recently made into law by the state, and is being considered as legislation in several communities, including Rocky River.
Karen Conroy, an AT&T employee with students at Magnificat High School and St. Edward High School in Lakewood, decided to bring the message even closer to home by initiating activities at both schools, which recently culminated in students, faculty, staff and the public signing pledges.
“I decided to step in, and both schools embraced it,” said Conroy after a program at Magnificat, during which Rocky River Mayor Pam Bobst presented a proclamation to the school. Bobst also spoke of City Council’s pending legislation to ban texting while driving.
Also on hand was state Rep. Nan Baker (R), who thanked the school for supporting HB 99, passed by the Ohio General Assembly in August, which targets texting drivers. “We are grateful to know our work is being taken seriously,” Baker told the group of students and staff gathered in the school cafeteria.
AT&T public relations consultant Holly Hollingsworth stated earlier, by phone, that while there is no direct tie-in between the national program and Ohio’s recently approved legislation, there is a strong coincidence. “This could not be timelier. Nationally, it’s been noted that more and more states are passing legislation banning texting and driving,” she said. Hollingsworth added that, at the high school level, AT&T has brought in a texting simulator, most recently to John Hay High School in Cleveland.
“Magnificat started on Monday building the excitement. They’ve been working on awareness all week,” said Conroy. Activities included daily PA announcements promoting pledge day, posters with the “It Can Wait” message and the viewing of “The Last Text,” a 10-minute documentary by AT&T, which reinforces the message that no text is worth risking a life. During lunch periods on Sept. 19, students staffed a pledge table, where signers received vehicle stickers and reminder thumb bands.
At St. Edward, similar programs were held during the week, and at the Sept. 19 junior varsity and varsity soccer games against St. Ignatius, a pledge table was set up for students, parents and fans to support the no-text and driving movement.
Magnificat student council President Allie Corrigan was one of the students overseeing the lunchtime pledge table at her school. “There are a lot more than expected. Actually, my math teacher just signed” she said, when asked how sign-ups were going. She added that texting while driving is “a huge problem. It’s an extra distraction that’s so unnecessary.”
Although a majority of teens, 97 percent according to figures provided by AT&T, agree that driving and texting are a dangerous mix, 43 percent admit to doing so. More sobering figures state that 77 percent of teens see their parents text behind the wheel, and 75 percent say that texting and driving are common among their friends, despite the fact that texting drivers are 23 times more likely to get into an accident.
Conroy found the day’s events at Magnificat encouraging. She added that AT&T offers a free mobile app for Android, BlackBerry and smartphone users that provides a customizable auto-reply message that callers will receive if they send a text or e-mail, notifying them that the user is driving and will respond when it is safe. The company is urging other mobile device manufacturers to do the same.
“Hopefully, the awareness will continue. I think with the program and the videos, it has hit a home run and gets the message across,” she said.