LITTLE ROCK Gov. Mike Beebe joined leaders from AT&T, Children's Hospital, the Department of Education and the State Police Friday morning at Central High School to launch a campaign against texting while driving.
The collaboration is aimed at raising awareness of the risks of injury or death when drivers become distracted reading or composing text messages.
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The effort in Arkansas is part of a national campaign that includes a series of television advertisements, a Web site, a Facebook application and a pledge teenagers can sign declaring they will not text and drive.
"If we save one life it's worth it," Beebe said before an audience of several dozen Central students, many of whom later signed the pledge. "If we save one significant injury, it's worth it. And in my opinion, we'll save a lot more."
The TV spots in the campaign feature voice-overs from people affected by accidents caused by text messaging. In one played Friday at Central, the words "Where u at" appeared on the screen while Rogers resident Merry Dye said, "This is the text my daughter was reading when she drove into oncoming traffic."
Dye, whose daughter, Mariah West, was killed in the May 21, 2009 wreck, joined Beebe at the launch event and said she was pleased to be emphasizing the dangers of texting and driving.
"Anything to help save another parent from going through what I had gone through," she said with tears in her eyes. "... It's an epidemic, I think, everywhere."
A law that went into effect last October made it illegal to send or receive texts while driving, but it has resulted in very few convictions. Authorities have said it is difficult to enforce.
As part of the awareness campaign, AT&T will air the ads and place promotional materials in stores. Arkansas schools, meanwhile, will have access to posters, public service announcements and pledge forms.
After the launch Friday morning, a number of Central students approached a large pledge banner at the front of the school auditorium and wrote their names in black Sharpie. "I'm signing for my family and friends," wrote Carmen S. Ellison. "I'm signing for my cousin - RIP," wrote Deadrick Duckworth.
Beebe challenged the students to stop texting and driving themselves and then to encourage friends and family to do the same.
"If you do that, you'll make the roads safer for you," he said. "And you'll make the roads safer for the rest of us."