Ford, AT&T tackle safe mobile use

DEARBORN, MI: Ford educated various stakeholders about the safety of hands-free mobile use while driving in the lead up to the federal Distracted Driving Summit that took place earlier this week.

DEARBORN, MI: Ford educated various stakeholders about the safety of hands-free mobile use while driving, in the lead up to the federal Distracted Driving Summit that took place earlier this week.

The Distracted Driving summit was sponsored by the US Department of Transportation, and followed a wave of public and legislator concern about the dangers of cell phone use, including text messaging, while driving. Ray LaHood, US Secretary of Transportation, was the keynote for the event, and a number of other government and industry representatives were scheduled to speak at it.

Earlier this month, Ford became the first automaker to endorse a legislative ban on handheld use of mobile devices while driving. The endorsement gave Ford an opportunity to promote its in-car Sync technology, which allows for hands-free control of mobile devices through voice commands.

Wes Sherwood, Ford's safety communications manager, said recent research shows that drivers are distracted—not by the act of talking on a phone, but by taking their hands off the wheel and eyes off the road to physically manipulate the mobile device. “We've seen an unfortunate imbalance to the facts and research around this issue. Nobody was really out there pointing out the more balanced, comprehensive and recent research,” said Sherwood. “We felt we had an important role to do that.”

In the last few weeks, Ford has conducted briefings and one-on-one meetings with government officials, media and analysts, and has held training sessions with employees and dealers. It has also briefed its various partners, including the Auto Alliance and Consumer Electronics Association. Prior to the summit it demonstrated a new teen-oriented education program that will be part of its ongoing Ford Driving Skills for Life initiative.

In terms of consumer outreach, last week Ford released the results of a consumer poll which revealed most Americans support a nationwide ban and feel voice-activated, hands-free systems are safer. The results were covered by USA Today.

Ford's complete roster of PR agencies has supported the automaker in its efforts, including with strategy, polling and measurement, Sherwood said, though he declined to name them. In the past, Ford has worked with WPP agencies including Burson-Marsteller, Ogilvy PR, and Hill & Knowlton, as well as independent firms like the Social Media Group in Toronto.

AT&T, which also participated in the two-day Distracted Driving summit, announced a major campaign September 30 to warn cell phone users—particularly teens—about the dangers of texting while driving. “We've felt this way for some time, and thought we should reinvigorate [our position],” said Mark Siegel, executive director, media relations, Dallas-based AT&T Mobility and Consumer Services.

The multifaceted campaign will include PSAs featuring high-profile spokespeople and the creation of an online resource center for parents, high school teachers and other educators. Tools will include a parent-teen pledge, posters for high school drivers' education classes, and a teacher's guide. An internal relations initiative is also underway, and will include a revision to AT&T's policy that will prohibit employees from texting while driving.

Siegel said it is too early to talk specifics about the campaign because it is still in the planning stages, but AT&T's AOR Fleishman-Hillard “will play a major part in the effort.”

He also said AT&T is exploring the adoption of “technology solutions” that would allow drivers to use their devices safely.

Updated October 2, 2009, 11:01am

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