By Stephen Markley on March 31, 2011
The goal of every automaker is to better integrate your smartphone with your car.
The goal of the U.S. Department of Transportation is to stop you from using all those features while driving.
A technological fix to combat distracted driving is the goal of several applications and cellphone service providers, but figuring out a way to keep people from texting while driving or otherwise operating their smartphones may prove difficult. Fundamentally, these phone-blocking mechanisms ask that you pay to deny yourself use of your smartphone.
It seems as though people who would pay for a phone-blocking service would also be the ones who would not answer their phones, text or surf the web while driving in the first place. Additionally, it’s not clear how the apps will know when you’re in the driver’s seat rather than a passenger (or on a bus or train, for that matter). Phone blockers are targeted specifically to the parents of teenage drivers, but this may have its flaws, as well.
Here is a roundup of the new distracted driving apps available for purchase.
Sprint announced the Drive First app for Android phones at a cost of $2 per month. The app redirects calls to voice mail, automatically responds to texts with an alert that the recipient is driving, and gives parents and employers the ability to set Drive First’s terms through web portal access. It does allow three key contacts in case of emergency as well as GPS navigation. The idea being that a parent would program him or herself, a spouse and 911 as the contacts in case their teen driver runs into trouble on the road.
The distracted driving app business presupposes that teens are the major problem, but with 16,000 people dying between 2001 and 2007 due to distracted driving, according to the American Journal of Health, it seems unlikely that teens are the only ones making poor decisions behind the wheel. TXtBlocker follows the control-your-teenager model by allowing parents to set limits on where and when texts can be sent and received. It also allows them to track the phone’s location via the Internet (when I was a teenager, I know I’d rather have skipped a cell phone than allow my parents to follow me on Google Maps). The tXtBlocker app costs $7 a month and works with BlackBerry and Android phones. Consumer Reports called it, “the most effective antitexting product we've tried.”
With an even more on-the-nose name, TeenSafer performs similarly to tXtBlocker but costs $3 a month and has fewer features. For instance, it does not have zone-based blocking and GPS tracking. One major flaw may be that it requires Bluetooth connectivity to automatically activate, so if an even mildly intrepid teen doesn’t connect the BlackBerry, well, he or she can have a text fiesta. The same company has a nearly identical product called MobileSafer for the same monthly fee.
SafeCellApp costs a whopping $11.99 at the iPhone app store — also available for Android — and effectively locks out your cellphone while driving. It allows emergency calls, but the big feature is that you get reward points for safe driving that can be redeemed for Visa gift cards.
Each time you run the app it records your trip and driving behavior and rewards you points. Is there a catch? Some reviews say that if you lose your Internet connection the trip info is lost, and you have to leave the app running during the entire drive, draining battery life.
But financial rewards may be the only way to break drivers of their smartphone addictions.