Big 4 mobile phone carriers unite on anti-texting ads

NEW YORK (AP) - The four biggest US mobile phone companies are set to launch their first joint advertising campaign against texting while driving, uniting behind AT&T's It Can Wait slogan to blanket TV and radio this summer.

AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile will be joined by 200 other organisations backing the multi-million dollar ad campaign.

The campaign is unusual not just because it unites rivals, but because it represents companies warning against the dangers of their own products. After initially fighting laws against mobile phone use while driving, mobile phone companies have begun to embrace the language of the federal government's campaign against mobile phone use by drivers.

AT&T and Verizon have run ads against texting and driving since 2009. In 2005, Sprint Nextel Corp created an education programme targeting teens learning to drive.

"Every CEO in the industry that you talk to recognises that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with," AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in an interview. "I think we all understand that pooling our resources with one consistent message is a lot more powerful than all four of us having different messages and going different directions."

Beyond TV and radio ads, the new campaign will stretch into the skies through displays on Goodyear's three blimps. It will also include store displays, community events, social-media outreach and a national tour of a driving simulator. The campaign targets teens in particular.

AT&T Inc calls texting and driving an "epidemic", a term it borrows from the federal Department of Transportation. The US transportation secretary has been on a self-described "rampage" against mobile phones since his term began in January 2009.

CEO Stephenson said that "texting while driving is a deadly habit that makes you 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash". The figure refers to a 2009 government study of bus and truck drivers. It isn't based on crashes alone, but on the likelihood that the drivers showed risky behaviour such as lane drifting or sharp braking, sometimes culminating in a crash.

The unified ad campaign comes as some researchers are starting to say that while texting and driving at the same time is clearly a bad idea, it's not contributing measurably to an increase in traffic accidents. The number of accidents is in a long-term decline, and the explosion of texting and smartphone use doesn't seem to be reversing that trend.

In the 2009 government study, texting, e-mail and surfing on the mobile phone was a factor in about 1 per cent of crashes, well below epidemic levels.

Nonetheless, the mobile phone industry and the federal government have focused their attention on mobile phones.

The government's Distraction.gov site singles out mobile phones as the greatest danger among all sources of driver distraction.