Drive to curb texting while driving begins in Oklahoma

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 18-Nov-2010

AT&T, Governor Brad Henry, AAA Oklahoma, the Department of Public Safety and Oklahoma City Public Schools on Wednesday (November 17) joined together to launch a new collaborative campaign across Oklahoma to raise awareness about the risks of texting while driving. The message to all wireless consumers, especially youth, is that text messages can, and should, wait until after driving.

The campaign features public service ads that share stories and messages that were sent or received in the seconds before someone’s life was altered, or ended, because of texting while driving. One TV ad shows the text “Where u at?” flashing onscreen while a woman’s voice says, “This is the text my daughter was reading when she drove into oncoming traffic.” The ad concludes with the message “No text is worth dying over” and the campaign’s tagline, “Textng & Drivng … It Can Wait.”

“While we enjoy the convenience of immediate mobile communications, such advances in technology often increase potential distractions and risks for drivers of all ages,” Gov. Henry said. “This initiative is intended to capture attention and change habits. We all need to take responsibility for being safe drivers, an effort that will make our roads safer and save lives.”

The governor issued a proclamation declaring Nov. 17-24 as “No Texting While Driving Week” in Oklahoma, citing statistics that a driver increases the risk of an accident by 2,300 percent if he or she is texting while driving.

“With the help of the governor, various state agencies, our schools and AAA Oklahoma, we’re urging all Oklahomans who drive to do so without reading or sending text messages and e-mails,” said Bryan Gonterman, president, AT&T Oklahoma. “Is there any text or e-mail message worth losing your life over or causing grave injury to another person? Of course not. We want wireless users to safely use our products and services, as well as those services of other companies.”

At Wednesday’s announcement, the officials joined students from the Oklahoma City Public School district in signing a large banner to symbolically pledge that they would not text and drive. At conclusion of the press briefing in the Blue Room in the Capitol, Henry became the first to sign the banner. He was followed by scores of students from Southeast, Northeast and Northwest High Schools.

The Oklahoma effort is part of a national campaign that will incorporate print, radio, TV and online advertising as well as in-store signage, collateral and online billing by AT&T. Parents, high school educators and, most importantly, youth, can visit AT&T’s online resource center The site includes downloadable information about texting while driving including a parent-teen pledge, a teen-teen pledge, a poster, a brochure, safety tips and more.

AT&T will work with AAA to help educate teens and parents on what they can do to keep teens safer on Oklahoma roads, Gonterman told reporters.

“The number one killer of teens in Oklahoma is motor vehicle crashes,” said Chuck Mai of AAA Oklahoma. “We strongly encourage teens and their parents to take the no texting and driving pledge. Teens look to their parents for guidance on safe driving, and one important way to stay safer is to reduce distractions. So, the safest message parents can give their teens is: ‘put the phone down, it can wait.’ ”

Karl Springer, superintendent, Oklahoma City Public Schools, said the school district fully supports educating students about the dangers of texting while driving. “Driving requires an individual’s full attention and this is particularly true with younger, inexperienced drivers,” Springer said. “Schools are an excellent place to get the word out about this important topic and we’re glad to participate.”

“Enforcing the laws that have been written to make our highways safer is only one part of our job as law enforcement officers,” said Kevin Ward, commissioner, Department of Public Safety. “We also have the responsibility to educate and share with the public the lessons learned from the tragedies of others. Distracted driving has always been a threat to highway safety, but today there is a new threat and we must work together to educate our families and friends about the dangers of texting while driving.”

AT&T also has launched a Facebook application, which can be found at Friends can share this application to encourage others to take the pledge to not text and drive.

“While our campaign is important for all drivers, we’re particularly focused on youth,” Gonterman said. About a year ago, AT&T announced a commitment to raise awareness about the issue of texting and driving through a multifaceted initiative to educate employees, customers and the general public about using wireless devices safely while driving.

Since then, AT&T has revised its wireless and motor vehicle policies to more clearly and explicitly prohibit texting and driving, impacting its approximately 280,000 employees; incorporated a don’t-text-and-drive message on the plastic clings that protect handset screens on the majority of new devices sold in AT&T’s more than 2,200 stores; and integrated campaign messaging in AT&T catalogs, in-store signage and collateral, bills, e-mails, newsletters and more.

Also attending the briefing were legislative supporters of a ban on texting while driving, including state Rep. Danny Morgan, a Prague Democrat, state Sen. Don Barrington, a Lawton Republican, and newly-elected state Sen. Ralph Shorty, a south Oklahoma City Republican.

Last legislative session. Rep. Morgan co-sponsored an unsuccessful measure, House Bill 3250, which would prohibit texting or emailing while operating a motor vehicle. He told CapitolBeatOK early in the last legislative session:  “This would build on what we did a couple of years back, the graduated driver’s license. That has really had an impact. Fatalities are off.”

Rep. Morgan’s co-sponsor in that effort was state Rep. Sue Tibbs, a Tulsa Republican. In the early 2010 interview, Morgan reflected, “Some make an argument that you shouldn’t have to pass a law to stop people from violating common sense, but I believe people are less apt to text and drive, or email and drive, if it’s actually against the law to do it.”

NOTE: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.