The AT&T "Texting and Driving: It Can Wait" Simulator is designed to show firsthand the dangers of texting behind the wheel.
McLean, VA (written by Eli Blumenthal/Special for USA Today) -- While the world's attention is focused on the launch of the iPhone 5, AT&T would like people to focus a little less on their phones and a bit more on the road. Today, two days before Apple's latest smartphone goes on sale, AT&T is spearheading "No Text on Board Pledge Day."
In the past five years 35,000 American teens have died in automobile crashes according to the website Dosomething.org. That's 6,000 deaths per year, or 18 per day. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood calls texting while driving a "national epidemic."
AT&T is reaching out to teenage drivers to change this behavior. The company's message is simple: Don't text while you drive.
AT&T has invested tens of millions of dollars this year as part of a national advertising campaign called "It Can Wait" to help bring this issue to a national level.
The Pledge Day campaign is focused primarily at teenagers, but with a message that is appropriate to all drivers. To help spread the word, AT&T has recruited the help of teenage celebrities Victoria Justice and Ryan Beatty who have filmed thirty second videos encouraging teenagers to visit the campaign's website, ItCanWait.com, and take the pledge. Other celebrities such as Bobby Flay, Vivica A. Fox, and Forrest Whitaker, while not recruited by AT&T for this campaign, have taken the pledge and encouraged their Twitter followers to do the same.
AT&T has also created several programs designed to both educate and help prevent texting while driving. Today, the company launched a free, online virtual simulator where users may enter their phone number and begin virtually driving using their mouse and keyboard. While "driving" the user's actual phone will receive a text prompting them to respond. The goal of the simulator is to show that even a quick glance down to review the message or a quick response can cause your virtual car to crash, similar to what might happen when one reviews a message or text while actually driving.
AT&T is also sending an in-vehicle simulator around the country to provide a more realistic experience where users can get behind the wheel of an actual car equipped with a demonstration similar to the online virtual simulator. AT&T currently has three such simulators traveling to college campuses as well as following the American Idol Live! Tour.
In addition to this educational program, AT&T has also created a free downloadable application called DriveMode for Android and BlackBerry devices that, once turned on by users, will automatically send a response to any incoming text that they are driving and will respond later. Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon have all also created similar programs for Android devices.
Indeed, AT&T isn't the only carrier in the mobile industry looking to raise awareness about this issue. T-Mobile offers safe driving tips on its website to discourage texting while driving, while Verizon has regional programs ongoing, such as one earlier this year in South Carolina where it teamed with the local community including schools and police departments to "promote the importance of safe driving."
Sprint, while not working with AT&T on this campaign, supports it. "Encouraging safe driving is an industry-wide focus and we applaud all carriers for helping raise awareness and offering solutions to reduce distracted driving," says Debby Ballard, director of Community Affairs for Sprint.
"From the Sprint Drive First app to our Focus on Driving campaign and safe driving pledge, Sprint encourages consumers to educate themselves and their loved ones about the dangers of distracted driving and has provided resources to do just that." Sprint also has its own pledge campaign on its website, sprint.com/focusondriving, where it has already received over 65,000 safe driving pledges.