Tyler area officials gathered Wednesday to support a new “It Can Wait” initiative spearheaded by AT&T to highlight the dangers of texting and driving.
Wednesday was national “No Text On Board” pledge day, an occasion in which people were asked to sign a pledge stating they will refrain from texting and driving.
“Our company is doing a national initiative,” AT&T external affairs director Candice Gast said. “We're the first wireless company to do this (initiative) … our goal is to save lives.”
Driver inattention is a huge problem that's growing larger as people are drawn to advances in technology and greater connectivity, officials said.
The numbers can be revealing: When you text and drive, the chances of becoming involved in an accident are about 23 times greater than when you don't, researchers found.
“This is a public health issue,” Mayor Barbara Bass said, asking people to rethink connectivity when they drive. “Your life is too important to your family and too important to this community.”
So how big of an issue is it?
Recent national data suggests 80 percent of crashes involve driver inattention, amounting to roughly 4.78 million incidents that killed more than 34,000 and yielded about 2 million injuries.
Locally, inattentive drivers can take up a chunk of police resources.
Of the 2,400 accidents investigated this year, 155 were attributed to a lack of attention, Police Chief Gary Swindle said.
“We had only five who admitted to being on a cell phone,” the chief said, asking people to pledge they will set aside social connectivity when driving. Dozens of audience members attending Wednesday's event responded to the request, stepping forward to sign a banner pledging support.
Stephanie Taylor, Northeast Texas Public Health District public relations director, said the efforts are important because this region is particularly vulnerable to crashes.
She cited statistics that show East Texas has an 86 percent greater risk for traffic crashes that result in bodily injury or death.
“Forty-eight percent of rural teens text while driving,” she said, announcing the formation of a new health district initiative: Pay Attention East Texas.
The district's new public education efforts, intended to reduce the number and severity of auto crashes, include texting simulators, guest speakers, school education and community events.
Mrs. Gast said East Texans seem to be receptive to the “It Can Wait” message and the intent behind it.
“We want to get on board to make East Texas a safer place,” she said.