Using technology to combat distracted driving

Last year, T-Mobile announced an optional new service that would automatically disable alerts and send all calls to voicemail if a cell phone is in a moving car. At that time, we expected other carriers would follow with similar innovations.

Surprise! Many other technology companies have moved into this area over the last 12 months to try to reduce the rinks from distracted driving.

  • Sprint has produced the Drive First Android app for Android cell phone users. For a modest monthly charge, the cell phone is locked in a moving vehicle; incoming calls are directed to voicemail, and incoming texts get a preset reply. The program informs parents if a child disables the feature.
  • AT&T has introduced DriveMode for its customers. The app can be downloaded free from  BlackBerry App World™ and Android Market™. When enabled, the app sends a customizable auto-reply message to incoming texts*, letting your friends know you’re behind the wheel and will reply when it’s safe. (* Data and text messaging charges may apply for download and app usage. Standard messaging rates apply to auto-reply messages. AT&T DriveMode is free to AT&T customers only. Compatible device required.)
  • Textecution blocks texting functions that completely disables texting when the phone is moving faster than 10 mph. It works on Android phones. It costs $29.99 but remains operational as long as the cell phone number is working. It’s primarily designed for parents to limit teenage texting; if the program is turned off or removed, the parent is notified.
  • TextNoMore is a free application for BlackBerry and Android system phones. When it is activated by the user before driving, the program suppresses all notifications, blocks outgoing text messages, and stores any incoming texts. As an incentive for teenagers to use the program, when it is turned off after driving the user gets a discount coupon that can be redeemed at the websites of various participating merchants.
  • iGuardian Teen is a $4.99 app currently available for Droid smart phones, with an iPhone version promised in the future. The program blocks call and text notifications, diverting incoming messages to voicemail or text storage.
  • WiseDrive is a $0.99 app that blocks text notifications and auto-replies to text messages to say you’re not available. It works with Android devices.
  • FleetSafer is designed for the business manager who wishes to limit cell phone distractions who are driving for business reasons. The program prevents web browsing as well as texting and emails; as an option, it can also block cell phone calls.
  • Cellcontrol is a program and monitoring system designed both for family and business use. Each version can suppress texting, e-mails, and gaming from multiple cell phones at once. The family version costs $129.95 and covers up to six phones, while the version for commercial vehicles is priced according to the size of the fleet.
  • iZUP mobile software (pronounced “Eyes Up”) blocks incoming and outgoing messages while driving. Originally designed for businesses and commercial vehicles, the program is now available for individuals and families. Rates vary depending on the type of phone monitored, billing frequency, and number of phones serviced.

Controversy remains

The expansion of programs and apps to limit cell phone calls and texting has been controversial. Many experts have credited these applications with reducing distractions and saving hundreds of lives, even in so short a time as a year.

Critics acknowledge the good done by these programs, but they also say that the software comes with too high a price. There are four major areas of criticism:

  • It’s patronizing. Teenagers see the ability to drive as marking the transition to being adults. When parents install a software on their teenager’s cell phone, that sends the message that the teen is still only considered a child. Teens resent the implication.
  • It’s an invasion of privacy. Many of these programs rely in GPS circuits within a cell phone. Some of the programs allow the user to track where the cell phone (and its owner) travels.
  • The programs rely too much on motion sensitivity. Many of the programs automatically turn off cell phones that are traveling above a low speed (5-10 mph). That doesn’t mean the phone owner is driving; he or she may well be a passenger in a vehicle.
  • The programs can’t outwit their users. Teenagers who want to be able to text and drive can (and will) disable the monitoring program.

What do you think?

Have you installed one of these apps — or a similar system — on your phone, or the phones of your teenage children? Do you think they will be effective at preventing distracted driving, or do they represent too heavy a burden on your lifestyle? Are parents doing the right think installing these programs on their teenagers’ phones? We welcome all opinions.