OPINION: Curbing Distracted Driving is a Year-long Effort

by Patricia Jacobs, president, AT&T New England

As we approach the busy summer travel months, it’s important to remember that our efforts to make our roads and highways safer must continue.

AT&T launched its “It Can Wait” distracted driving campaign back in 2010. Since then, they’ve had the opportunity to host dozens of school assemblies across Vermont to raise awareness about distracted driving and talk to thousands of local drivers of all ages about their driving habits.

Over the years, we have found that the best way to educate people about the dangers of distracted driving and help them break out of the habit is two-fold: 1) provide drivers with convenient, user-friendly tools that help them resist the urge to glance at their phones while behind the wheel; and 2) encourage everyone in the community — from elected officials and policymakers to law enforcement officers to concerned parents, teachers and friends — to talk openly about the issue.

The tools are simple. In every electronics store, there are countless hands-free devices, Bluetooth speakers and mounted phone cases. These accessories, combined with a mobile apps — will, when active, automatically block incoming notifications sensing that the car is in motion.  With the right tools, drivers can stay connected without ever having to take their eyes off the road. 

The second step can be a bit more complicated, but it’s incredibly important. Every one of AT&T’s distracted driving studies since 2010 have gleaned a common result: Drivers — especially young drivers — are significantly more likely to change their behavior if a friend or a loved one asks them to.

While many of us have hundreds of phone numbers, email addresses and Facebook friends in our smartphones’ virtual rolodexes, AT&T research found that most smartphone users have a significant amount of their interactions with just five people. Our study also found those five people are genuinely capable of influencing and changing behavior. When it comes to distracted driving, more than 80 percent of drivers said they would immediately stop using their phone while driving if someone in their top 5 friends list asked them to.

We urge everyone to start using that influence. Remind your friends and loved ones that they are more important than any text message, Facebook post or email.

Since launching the “It Can Wait” campaign, AT&T has conducted a number of surveys and behavioral studies in an effort to fully understand the issue of distracted driving. They found that even though nearly 99 percent of drivers understand that texting while driving is dangerous, nearly 70 percent do it anyway. Some say they do it because they think they’re better at multitasking than their peers. Some say they only use their phone at red lights, or they only quickly glance at their phones on occasion. Others say they’re trying to stop, but claim that distracted driving is a compulsion – even “addicting.”

Put simply, distracted driving is a bad habit, and bad habits are tough to break. But if we work together — and keep communicating our concerns with the people we love — we can make an impact.

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