A major wireless provider in Missouri is trying to curb smartphone usage by people behind the wheel. AT&T has collected over 14 million pledges on its “It Can Wait” website to fight against distracted driving.
It also had one of its “texting while driving” simulators circulating across the state recently to let people observe the dangers of the practice firsthand.
AT&T Missouri President John Sondag says the company’s goal is to stamp out distracted driving through education.
“I’m old enough where I can remember, as a kid, most people didn’t wear seat belts” said Sontag. “But through education on why it saves lives, you know, today the majority of people get in their car and they click their seat belt on. It’s a habit. And that’s where we want texting and driving to be in 20 years, or sooner.”
AT&T and other companies offer free “drive mode” apps which silence incoming text alerts when drivers reach a certain speed, usually 10-to-15 miles an hour.
Lawmakers in Jefferson City were among the first in the country to outlaw texting behind the wheel for people 21 and under. That law was passed in 2009. But Sondag is frustrated Missouri is still one of only four states without a complete ban on all ages.
“There’s bills filed every year down there to basically put this ban for all drivers. And we tell lawmakers where we are. We usually testify in support of making this a complete ban. And for various reasons, those bills never really go anywhere.”
AT&T performed research and found that in the four states without a total ban, texting behind the wheel is 17 percent more likely to take place.
“To me if you could make your roads 17 percent safer by extending the ban to everybody, I don’t know why you wouldn’t do it” said Sondag.
Missouri did pass a law last year banning all cell phone usage by those operating commercial vehicles.
Sondag says AT&T expanded it’s “It Can Wait” campaign a couple of years ago to focus on all uses of smart phones as research started showing people were using the devices to perform tasks such as updating their facebook page or tweet out messages.
“One in ten people actually do Snapchat. They’re kind of on their phone looking at a video and who talking with while their driving.”
As President of AT&T Missouri, Sontdag has 10,000 employees. He says the company encourages them to help educate the public about the dangers of smart phone usage behind the wheel.
“If they can bring this issue up, and we encourage them to do that, we have 10,000 voices in the state. There’s more than just my voice. We need to have everyone talking about this.”
AT&T’s largest employee presence is in the St. Louis area where 5,500 people are based, many with the company’s IT department. Another 2,500 work in the Kansas City area, while 700-800 people are employed at an AT&T call center in Joplin.