NorthwestCell has teamed up with the Missouri State Highway Patrol to help raise awareness about the dangers of texting while driving.
The campaign is focusing on teenage drivers at high schools in Nodaway, Atchison, Gentry, Holt and Worth counties.
Young drivers attending those schools will be asked to make a formal pledge not to text and drive and also to encourage friends and family to refrain from using cell phones while behind the wheel.
"More than 100,000 times each year, an automobile crashes and people are injured or die while a driver is texting and driving," said NorthwestCell general manager Roger Bundridge. "Distracted driving is an epidemic on our roadways, and we need people throughout the area to take action in their communities to help put a stop to it."
The joint "DNT TXT N DRV" campaign centers around the theme "Stop the texts to stop the wrecks."
"Our goal is to educate our youth and discourage texting while driving," Bundridge said. "We will be circulating T-shirts, awareness wrist bands and posters and holding school assemblies in order to promote our effort."
Bundridge said other local industries, notably NuCor LMP, began their own no-texting campaigns earlier this year, and he encouraged other area businesses to join the effort.
The campaign has released statistics claiming that the average driver takes his or her eyes off the road for a full five seconds while texting. Traveling at 55 miles per hour, that's enough time for a vehicle to cover the length of a football field.
Also, the patrol reports, texting drivers are 23 times more likely to get into an accident, while 18 percent of traffic fatalities nationwide related to distracted-driving are attributed to cell phone use.
Missouri became a flashpoint in the texting-while-driving debate two years ago after it was determined that a 19-year-old driver was texting just before his pickup truck, two school buses and a tractor-trailer collided in a deadly pileup east of St. Louis.
Two people — the pickup driver and a 15-year-old student on one of the buses — were killed and 38 others injured.
In 2009, about a year before the accident, the Missouri Legislature passed a law prohibiting drivers 21 years of age or younger from sending, reading or writing an electronic message while driving.
Since then, however, lawmakers have balked at expanding the texting-driving ban to older motorists. Earlier this year, the Legislature considered at least seven "distracted driving" bills, but none made it to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk.
Currently, Missouri is one of only a handful of states without a ban on text messaging by all drivers.
According to a recent study by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, distracted driving is the leading cause of traffic crashes in Missouri and nationwide. Eighty percent of crashes involve some form of driver distraction, and teens admit texting is the No. 1 activity that diverts their attention while driving.