U.S. carriers line up against texting while driving

The four major mobile operators will jointly support an ad campaign warning consumers against it

The major U.S. mobile operators are all putting their weight behind a campaign against texting while driving that will include a blitz of advertising and a driving simulator touring the country this summer.

On Tuesday, Verizon, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA joined the "It Can Wait" campaign that AT&T began last year. Next Monday, the campaign will kick off TV, radio and online ads warning consumers about the dangers of texting and driving, and a driving simulator will tour the country to demonstrate how dangerous the practice can be.

Recent studies have raised concerns over the growth of texting while driving and its dangers, especially for teenagers. Almost 43 percent of high school students of driving age had texted while driving in the past month, according to a recent survey by the Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York.

The co-branded summer campaign, scheduled to run through Labor Day on Sept. 3, was timed for what the carriers called the most dangerous season for teen driving. It will also include messages in Wal-Mart, Best Buy and RadioShack stores as well as the carriers' retail shops.

More than 200 organizations are also joining in the campaign. On Sept. 19, just as they did last year, backers of the program will ask consumers to take a pledge not to text while driving.

"They are doing the right thing," said mobile analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates. "I don't think anybody, including the carriers, wants people texting while they're driving."

At the same time, the carriers may also be trying to head off further regulation of mobile use in cars. Texting while driving is illegal in many states, as is talking on a phone without a hands-free system. However, regulation might someday go further to outlaw mobile use even with hands-free systems, he said. Carriers may also fear being named in lawsuits over texting-related accidents, so they're taking strong steps to warn against it, Gold said.

There are available steps beyond raising awareness to prevent texting while driving. DriveMode, an AT&T app for Android and BlackBerry phones, can disable almost every function on a phone when the embedded GPS shows the user is traveling more than 25 miles per hour. When a text is received, the app sends an automatic reply saying the user is driving. DriveMode has been pre-installed on the Pantech Discover, Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One and LG Optimus G Pro. The app isn't activated by default.

DriveMode still lets drivers make or receive calls with five designated contacts while driving. For users who are just riding in a car above 25 mph, there is a button in the app that turns off its restrictions.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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