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updated: 8/16/2012 4:55 PM

Illinois joins push to end texting and driving

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Associated Press

Illinois is one of several states backing a campaign by AT&T to get Americans to sign a pledge not to text behind the wheel, with Gov. Pat Quinn declaring September "Texting and Driving Awareness Month."

The issue has gained national attention with more crashes linked to email and text messaging and research showing the practice is especially widespread among teens. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has called it a "national epidemic."

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AT&T and other wireless providers are taking up the cause, realizing they have a role to play similar to the appeals from the liquor industry for people to drink responsibly.

"Texting and driving, we believe should be as unacceptable as drinking and driving," AT&T Illinois President Paul La Schiazza said Thursday.

In Illinois, Quinn is supporting the effort to have drivers sign the company's no-texting pledge on Sept. 19 at ItCanWait.com. Illinois is one of 39 states that ban texting while driving for all drivers. Five other states have partial bans.

Still, more than 100,000 crashes a year are linked to drivers reading or sending text messages, according to the National Safety Council.

AT&T started its campaign in 2009, producing a documentary and TV ads and touring the country with a simulator that allows people to see how quickly it is to lose control while texting. The company says it plans to spend millions on the effort this year.

Other wireless providers including Sprint and Verizon also have public awareness efforts on the issue. Sprint has a smartphone app called Sprint Drive First that locks a cellphone when a vehicle is moving more than 10 mph. Besides disabling the phone, it also directs incoming calls to voice mail and silences alerts for emails and texts.

AT&T has a similar DriveMode app and is pushing for manufacturers to pre-load no-text-and-drive technology on their mobile devices.

"It's a technology that is amazing in terms of how it's transformed people's lives and transformed our economy but at the same time it needs to be used responsibly," La Schiazza said.

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