Man bites dog news:
Telecom executives have long been outspoken foes of placing any restrictions on cellphone use, even though some studies have shown that texting while driving can be as dangerous as drinking and driving. Now, Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive of AT&T, has decided to become more outspoken in favor of his company’s campaign to put a stop to this scary practice.
Welcome to the cause, Mr. Stephenson. It’s about time.
We’ve all seen them — the drivers speeding down our streets and roadways, sometimes at night, looking down at their phones while barreling down the freeway, or staring at their phones when the light turns green as frustrated drivers behind them lean on their horns to get them moving.
Driving while talking on a hand-held phone is bad enough, a serious distraction for those behind the wheel. Texting while driving poses an even greater menace to everyone, including the texting drivers themselves and other drivers, passengers and pedestrians within range.
Those who indulge this habit can text or they can drive, but they can’t do both simultaneously and claim to do it safely. Studies say a texting driver is 23 times more likely to get into a crash than a non-texting driver. And yet one million people are reported to chat and text while driving each day.
That’s why a change in attitude by telecommunications companies is a potential game-changer. Safety experts have been warning about the dangers of texting while driving for years. They’ve been successful so far in persuading lawmakers in 39 states to ban the practice. Florida belongs to the dwindling club of bitter-enders holding the line against common-sense restrictions despite accumulating evidence that texting while driving causes accidents, often leading to death.
Lobbying by telecommunications companies has helped to keep these laws off the books, giving texting drivers a green light to do as they please despite persistent efforts by some lawmakers to sound the alarm in Tallahassee. Mr. Stephenson, who spoke up on the topic at a recent meeting of investors in New York, prefers market-driven solutions, but just ending opposition to legislative reform is a major step forward.
AT&T has launched a public awareness campaign “to drive behavior,” with technology being enlisted as part of the effort. The campaign is called “It can wait.” The company plans to offer a free, revised version of an app for Android and Blackberry phones that disables texting when the phone is moving 25 miles per hour or more.
All of this is a welcome change by the telecommunications industry, but more participation is needed. There is no app for the iPhone yet that can modify driving and texting behavior, for example. Technology might even be used someday to block phone calls to drivers.
Ultimately, however, law enforcement is needed to change the behavior of drivers who won’t be persuaded by mere education. Laws have been an indispensable part of the effort to keep intoxicated drivers off the streets. They should be used, as well, to stop texting drivers.
Lawmakers in Tallahassee should be put on notice that a failure to act constitutes a license to allow Florida drivers to practice reckless behavior behind the wheel.