ITASCA, IL --- "Death by Cell Phone" is the title of a new billboard advertisement the National Safety Council launched this month in 67 markets.
Sponsored by Nationwide Insurance Co. and Lamar Advertising, the billboards feature Linda, a 61-year-old wife, mother and grandmother from Oklahoma, and Joe, a 12-year-old boy from Michigan, with one tragic thing in common: both were killed in car crashes caused by drivers using cell phones.
The title comes from the words of Linda's daughter, Jennifer Smith, describing the young man who hit her mother: "He ran a red light and T-boned her car at 45 to 50 miles per hour, which was the posted speed limit. My mother died within a couple of hours from blunt force trauma to the head, neck and chest. I just call it death by cell phone."
The billboard features photos of Linda and Joe, along with the address of a Web site where viewers can watch a short video [deathbycellphone.org] that tells their stories. Appearing in the video are Smith and Joe's father, David Teater.
Smith and Teater make impassioned pleas for Americans to hang up their cell phones and stop text messaging while driving. Both believe the drivers of the cars that killed their loved ones were unaware of the cognitive distraction caused by talking on a cell phone or texting while driving.
According to one estimate, cell phone use is a factor in 6 percent of all crashes, which equates to 636,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries, 12,000 serious injuries and 2,600 deaths each year. Studies also show that cell phone-using drivers are four times more likely to be involved in personal injury crashes than other drivers, and that most crashes are caused by driver inattention, with cell phone use being the number-one distraction.
According to a 2008 poll by Nationwide Insurance, roughly eight in 10 (81 percent) cell phone owners report that they talk on their cell phone while driving. Comparatively, about one in five (18 percent) cell phone owners report that they send text messages while driving.
Smith and Teater anticipate a change of culture in the United States to recognize cell phone use while driving as particularly hazardous. The change will entail time, public education, state level legislation and law enforcement, and technology solutions offered by wireless operators and auto manufacturers.
"I can close my eyes and envision, maybe it is five years from now, maybe it is 10 years, when we can all look back and say 'hey, remember when we all used to talk on cell phones when we drove? What idiots we were to do that,'" Teater said.
Since his son's death, David Teater has sought to educate the public about the dangers of cell phone use while driving. In April he joined the NSC, accepting the newly created position of senior director of transportation strategic initiatives, focusing his efforts on reducing distracted driving and teen driving fatalities.
In January, the NSC became the first organization to call for a nationwide ban on all forms of cell phone use while driving. It is estimated more than 100 million people engage in this activity daily.