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New campaign targets texting while driving

by By Larry Copeland, USA TODAY via Liberty Mutual on Oct 31, 2011

Amid fresh evidence that warnings against distracted driving aren't sinking in, the USA's top road safety agency, states' attorneys general and the Ad Council are launching a campaign aimed at drivers 16-24 years old.

The message is simple: When you text and drive, you're not multitasking — you're driving blind.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, state attorneys general and state consumer protection agencies called on the Ad Council to create the campaign in hopes they can effect the kind of cultural change that helped rein in drunken driving and smoking.

  • "While enacting good laws is a very important thing and enforcing them is important, where you really achieve change is when you change attitudes and you change the culture in which people operate," Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen says.

"What I like about these ads is they are trying to change the culture. They're trying to make the case that when you text and drive … you're putting yourself and people around you in danger."

Texting while driving laws

Thirty-four states plus the District of Columbia have text-messaging bans. In 31 states and D.C., it is a primary offense,
meaning drivers can be pulled over specifically for texting.

States where texting while driving is a primary offense for all drivers:

Source: Governors Highway Safety Association

Map by Emily Brown, USA TODAY

The new multimedia campaign, created pro bono by the New York advertising agency The Concept Farm, is called "Stop the Texts. Stop the Wrecks."

Based on the success of similar past campaigns, it potentially could reach 8 million people, says Ad Council President and CEO Peggy Conlon.

"People in our culture, especially young people, have never known an era that didn't include cellphones and texting," she says. "One thing we are addressing is the compulsion (to text while driving)."

Two recent studies indicate that most Americans know that texting and driving is dangerous — but many continue to do it anyway.

A recent survey from insurer Liberty Mutual and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) found that more than half of high school students said they text while driving; the study also found that teens are sending fewer messages to peers and more to their parents. That followed a State Farm survey showing that a majority of parents actually use cellphones while teaching their children to drive.

NHTSA, which has focused heavily on reducing distracted driving under Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, acknowledges that "mobile devices have become a central part of the way people of all ages communicate" but stresses that "when it comes to staying safe behind the wheel, parents have a critical role to play" in setting a good example.

"Stopping distracted driving on our nation's roadways will require a comprehensive approach that includes strong laws, tough enforcement and public awareness efforts like the new ad campaign we're launching this week," LaHood says.

NHTSA's success with national efforts such as the "Click It or Ticket" campaign, which helped drive seat-belt use from 15% to 85%, leaves the agency convinced that a combination of public outreach, strong laws and effective policing can change driver and passenger behavior.

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