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The Journey to End Texting and Driving

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It's hard to believe that just a few years ago, many people didn't think twice about texting and driving.

When we at AT&T were preparing to launch the Texting and Driving ... It Can Wait® campaign in early 2010, people participating in advertising focus groups told us they didn't find statistics on the dangers of texting and driving compelling. One group actually challenged the need for a program to end texting and driving!

Then the focus group leader asked everyone to take out their phones and read the last text message they sent. He asked, "Is that message worth a life?"

The group fell silent, and a powerful education campaign was born around a series of public service announcements and a documentary called "The Last Text."

Today, almost everyone knows that texting and driving is dangerous and irresponsible. In surveys AT&T did with teens1 and commuters2, 97 percent and 98 percent, respectively, said they know the risks.

But here's the crazy thing. Many tell us they do it anyway. 43 percent of teens and nearly half of all commuters admit to texting while driving. And in the commuter survey, more than 40 percent of those who do it, say it's a habit.

So while knowing the danger is enough to get some people to stop -- one-in-three people who have seen the messages say they changed their behavior3 -- for many, that's not enough.

That led us to evolve and expand the campaign, and ask people to do more than acknowledge the risks. Last year, we focused on urging people to make a personal commitment in the form of a pledge never to text and drive. We held our first annual pledge day, and set up a web site -- ItCanWait.com -- where people can get more information and take the pledge. We launched an extensive texting and driving simulator tour, which lets participants experience the dangers in a safe setting, and then take the pledge. And by the end of the year, the campaign had inspired more than one million people to pledge not to text and drive.

This year, we took our call to action a step further. Social norm research4 we sponsored showed that a word from a friend could be a powerful influence on someone's decision not to text and drive. 78 percent of teens said they're likely not to text and drive if friends tell them it's wrong or stupid.

Another huge impact has come from the many organizations and individuals who have joined AT&T in sharing the message. More than 1,500 organizations and nearly 50,000 individuals have signed up to get materials and helped turn the It Can Wait campaign into a movement. In May, Sprint, T-Mobile US, Inc. and Verizon joined us in launching a new documentary and a series of ads by famed film maker Werner Herzog.

They tell the story of people like Reggie Shaw and Chandler Gerber. Reggie was 19 years old, and driving to work, something he had done a thousand times before. However, this time he looked down to text, went across the center line and ran into another vehicle. In that split-second, two men lost their lives, changing Reggie's forever. Chandler Gerber, too, was on his way to work in Bluffton, Indiana, texting back and forth with his wife. As he was texting "I love you," he hit the back of an Amish buggy, killing three children.

All these efforts are making a difference. The pledge count recently topped 3.5 million, more than 200,000 people have downloaded the AT&T DriveMode® App that blocks messages when you're driving, and research we're doing with state departments of transportation is showing a strong, positive correlation between It Can Wait campaign activities and a reduction in crashes!

We're excited by the impact of the It Can Wait movement so far. But as we all know from just watching our fellow drivers, our work is not done.

We'll continue to evolve and expand It Can Wait based on research that shows us what's working and how it could be even more effective. We're confident that people making personal commitments, sharing the message and adopting technologies that take away the temptation will continue to reduce texting while driving-related crashes.

Having created It Can Wait at a time when many people were still unaware of the dangers of texting and driving, our goal is that one day it will wind down because the people in that focus group will finally be right -- there will be no need for a program to end texting and driving.

1 AT&T Teen Survey

2 AT&T Business Commuter Study

3 AT&T TWD - ICW Perceptions Study

4 ConnectSafely.org 2013 Study

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Harvard School of Public Health in an effort to call more attention to the dangers of texting while driving. Distracted driving is the cause of 350,000 crashes per year, and the series will be putting a spotlight on efforts being made to combat the crisis by the public and private sectors and the academic and nonprofit worlds. In addition to original reporting on the subject, we'll feature at least one post a day every weekday in November. To see all the posts in the series, click here; for more information on the national effort, click here.

And if you'd like to share your story or observation, please send us your 500-850-word post to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.com.