By Lucy Parker The Daily News
“Put the cellphone away while driving” is the message Washington Parish Sheriff Randy Seal and Public Service Commission Chairman Eric Skrmetta want to get out to the public.
Joined by Rick Demint, director of external affairs for AT&T Louisiana, they spoke Thursday at the Sheriff’s Office about the issue and Seal’s proclamation of May 15-June 15 “No Texting While Driving Month.”
“I take my duty to protect our parish very seriously,” Seal said. “By educating our citizens about the dangers of texting while driving, we can improve safety and save lives.”
The Public Service Commission made a statewide proclamation of April as “No Texting While Driving Month,” and Skrmetta is now working with local law enforcement agencies to get the word about the dangers of texting while driving out to all members of the public.
“Far too often lives are drastically changed due to a texting-while-driving accident, but together we can change this trend,” Skrmetta said. “Taking the pledge to never text and drive and living up to it is a way to make communities throughout Louisiana safer.”
Skrmetta said a major effort of the program is reaching out to beginning drivers and getting the teens to pledge they will not text and drive.
Nearly 25 percent of all car accidents, approximately 1.6 million per year, are caused by texting and driving, according to the National Safety Council. Texting while driving is about six times more likely to cause an accident than any other highway accident cause, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration determined.
AT&T is working to bring attention to the issue through its “It Can Wait” campaign. In 2012, 165 organizations and a number of educators, legislators and other supporters took the pledge not to drink and drive. Through the combined effort, more than 1.2 million people made the pledge via the website ItCanWait.com, Facebook and Twitter, in addition to text-to-pledge initiatives and live events.
As part of an expanded 2013 effort, AT&T is working with device makers to preload into handsets technologies and solutions that are intended to curb texting while driving. The company’s goal is to make the solutions a standard part of all of its smartphones.
One such solution is the DriveMode Mobile App, which notifies senders of text messages that the driver is behind the wheel and will respond when it is safe to do so. More information on the app is available at att.com/drivemode.
The company is also making “It Can Wait” resources available to other organizations and has launched a nationwide tour of a texting-while-driving simulator.
Skrmetta said the simulator brings the message about the dangers of texting while driving home to students by showing them how many accidents they could get in by engaging in the practice.
“It’s a very, very nice system, and we hope they expand the program and bring it to more schools and give everybody a shot to have that experience,” he said.
The simulator is rotated to Louisiana several times a year, and Demint hopes to get it to a local school, possibly this fall.
Seal said he will ensure his deputies are more aware of texting while driving and that they will be on the lookout for it while they are out patrolling.
“We will enforce this law very vigorously,” he said.
Seal and Skrmetta encourage drivers to take the take the no-texting-while-driving pledge by visiting ItCanWait.com.