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Text Messages to Die For
AT&T Plans to Save Teen Drivers’ Lives
An article from David R. Smith at

Mariah West, Jacob Hawkes, Kayla Preuss, and 95 other teens from New York. Many think these students would still be alive today if they hadn’t texted while driving. Now, one wireless company is trying to make sure more teens don’t die the same way.

Texting While Driving: Can It Wait?
Just think about it. How often have you looked over at the car in the next lane and spotted a kid behind the wheel – who has his nose glued to the screen of his cell phone – busily trying to read or send off a text message?

You’ve probably noticed it a lot. According to a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project, 26% of American teens admit to texting while driving, while 48% of them say they’ve seen a friend text while behind the wheel.

Execs at AT&T have noticed it…and often enough that they’re actually doing something about it.

Last week, the popular cell phone company launched a nation-wide campaign called “It Can Wait.” The project is designed to increase teenage drivers’ safety by encouraging them with the truth that “texting can wait” if they’re driving a vehicle. AT&T’s website now includes a page that’s dedicated to the campaign which “features true stories and the text message that was sent or received before someone’s life was altered, or even ended, because of texting and driving.”

They even have an online quiz that’s designed to help kids diagnose whether they have a texting-while-driving problem, and if so, how severe it is. Their massive campaign will be broadcast through print, radio, TV, and online marketing…basically every form of media that we talked about in our recent 4-part Youth Culture Window series on “media consumption.”

In this press release, AT&T strategist Cathy Coughlin says, “We explored several campaign concepts but we didn't have our ‘aha!’ moment until we asked one of our focus groups to take out their devices and read the last text they received. When we asked if that particular message was worth the potential risk of reading while driving at 65 mph, you could have heard a pin drop. That’s when we realized the message ‘it can wait’ was effective in educating consumers about the dangers of texting while driving.”

Their “aha moment” translates fairly well into video. Here are a couple of the thought-provoking online spots that will leave you saying OMG.

AT&T isn’t the first to use graphic imagery and/or videos to try and get kids to stop texting while driving; at least one came out of the UK last year that was heavily criticized.

While AT&T is busy trying to deter kids from texting and driving simultaneously by means of marketing strategies, other groups are trying to accomplish the same end through “slightly” different means.

Short Thumb Strokes vs. the Long Arm of the Law
Several states in America have already passed some sort of legislation regarding cell phone use while driving. The Governor’s Highway Safety Association lists cell phone restrictions for every state (if applicable), breaking them down into categories such as “all cell phone ban” versus the less restrictive “text messaging ban.”

But many wonder if the laws will work. To date, they’ve been fairly difficult to enforce. In fact, many states/counties that have passed bans on texting while driving have yet to cite a single motorist (teen or otherwise) for the dangerous offense.

More than likely, AT&T and Deputy Do Good’s best intentions will still leave millions of young drivers risking their lives behind the wheel.

I guess that means parents will have to do their job.

Sending the Right Message (at the Right Time)
It’s almost a guarantee: if we as youth workers and parents do nothing, the problem will continue, if not get worse. But if we commit to denouncing the bad habit, we might just have an impact on our kids that could save their lives…and the lives of their friends.

Here’s a couple of common sense approaches to helping teen drivers stay responsible and safe behind the wheel.

  1. Repeatedly teach teenagers how dangerous texting while driving is. Make sure your kids are aware of the dangers that come from texting while driving. Also, make sure they understand how their decision to text and drive at the same time can greatly impact the lives of others. Teenagers need to know that they don’t live – or drive – in a vacuum.

  2. Flawlessly model that same standard. It’s no secret that many adults feel a great need to send and receive texts while driving. In fact, in one Harris survey, 89% of adults thought the practice should be banned, but a whopping 66% of the same group admitted to texting behind the wheel. Duh. If you’re gonna preach it, you gotta practice it! Don’t think for a moment that kids won’t notice your hypocrisy if you do otherwise. Be very disciplined in this; don’t lead them down slippery slopes like “reading texts” at red lights and stop signs. That just gives them permission to do that and more; it’s the proverbial “inch” that will inevitably lead to a “foot.”

Texting while driving is a serious problem. No matter how devoted AT&T is to their safety campaign, how graphic and compelling the videos, or how stringent the laws, nothing can replace your voice in teens’ lives.

By taking action now, it will help ensure that the teenagers in your life will “c u l8r.”

David R. Smith David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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