Ellis isn't surprised that people are serious about ending distracted driving.
"I'd say 95 percent of people know somebody that has been in a serious accident due to somebody not paying attention, whether it was them or the other driver," said Ellis, 37. "Unfortunately, I've known several. I think everybody understands the importance, the relevance of it."
The 16-dealership, 12-brand group was founded in 1971 by Jim Ellis, who is the group's chairman and Wes Ellis' grandfather. Jimmy Ellis, the group's CEO, is the son of the founder and Wes Ellis' father. Ellis would not disclose the group's unit sales.
The pledge campaign is the brainchild of Jimmy Ellis, who was deeply moved by two deadly, highly publicized auto accidents last spring in the Atlanta area involving teen drivers, said Wes Ellis.
That, coupled with the realization that three teenage relatives — a grand-niece who just turned 17, a nephew just shy of his 16th birthday and a granddaughter almost 14 — are on the verge of becoming drivers, made the effort personal for his father, Ellis said.
Jimmy Ellis "thought since automobiles are a product we're selling, we should take responsibility for educating consumers about the dangers of the products if they are not used correctly," said Wes Ellis. "Staying focused and not being distracted is part of using it correctly."
Jimmy Ellis' idea came to fruition when the dealership's in-house ad agency crafted it into public service messages, Ellis said. The stopdistracteddriving.com site was created so people could sign the pledge online. It features a photo of a young man in a vehicle with one hand on the steering wheel and a cellphone in the other. The young man's facial expression makes it hard to determine if he's looking at the road or at the phone.
A 60-second radio spot that aired on local stations in December and was voiced by Jimmy Ellis urged listeners "to partner with our organization by taking the Jim Ellis Pledge to Drive Safe." The ad was emailed to the group's employees to motivate them to spread the message to customers, relatives and friends.
The message was prominently displayed on individual dealership Facebook pages and dealership websites.
Stopdistracteddriving.com and "Pledge to drive safe" will be either embedded or used as tag lines in the dealership group's TV ad campaign scheduled for May, Ellis said.