As we near the end of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, by now you've likely heard at least some of the many statistics showing how smartphone use while driving is fraught with danger for motorists, their passengers and everyone around them. Authorities cited distracted driving as the cause of more than 3,300 deaths nationwide in 2012 and thousands more injuries. Surveys show that drivers recognize the danger of distracted driving, and 43 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving, yet large percentages of drivers, including roughly three-quarters of teens and other young drivers, continue to do so anyway.
As a nation of motorists in a climate of nearly continuous connectivity, we have not been successful in putting down our personal devices long enough to get from point A to point B, even under threat of death or serious injury. For those of us who know better, but just can't seem to police ourselves or our driving-age children while behind the wheel, a market has emerged for apps and other measures that do our distracted-driving policing for us.
Cellcontrol, of Baton Rouge, La., is one of a growing number of third-party suppliers of systems that enable an administrator, likely a parent, to impose limits on their child's phone to prevent use while the car is in motion. Cellcontrol charges $119 to $129 for its device, which either plugs into the car's diagnostic computer or adheres to the windshield in the form of a small black transponder.
The device communicates with the vehicle to determine when it is in motion, at which time it disables the phone's functions to the administrator's preset customized levels, such as enabling only calls to emergency numbers or preventing texting. The device is able to determine who is in the driver's seat, so if the driver hands the phone to a passenger, that passenger would have access to the device's regular phone and web-browsing functions. Cellcontrol works with Apple iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Brew and Microsoft Windows Mobile platforms, and also includes email and text alerts notifying parents of what's going on with the car or if the program has been overridden.
Although some studies have shown that hands-free devices are at least as distracting to drivers as physically handling their smartphones — and possibly more so — 80 percent of U.S. motorists still report in surveys that they believe hands-free is safer. For those who think so and feel they must continue mobile communications while driving, another third-party provider, the Newark, N.J.-based DriveSafe.ly, offers a free app that reads text messages and emails "aloud in real time and automatically responds without drivers touching the mobile phone." At the touch of a single button, the Bluetooth-compatible app — available for Apple iPhone, Android and BlackBerry, with Windows Mobile coming soon — is activated so that when the vehicle is in motion, texts and emails will be read to the driver.
As Distracted Driving Awareness Month comes to what we all hope is a safe end, here are some other apps and measures available to help cut down on distracted driving:
- TXtBlocker allows 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. The tXtBlocker app starts at about $7 a month and works with iPhone, BlackBerry and Android.
- TeenSafer, offered by Aegis Mobility, is software for smartphones and tablets that detects when the vehicle is in motion and automatically puts the device in "safe mode" while driving, according to the company's website. In safe mode, a curtain screen blocks access to the keyboard and screen. All notifications and alerts are silenced, including incoming calls, texts and emails.
- SafeCellapp is an app designed to automatically disable call, email and messaging functions on smartphones. It works with iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. Each version of the application has been designed to help assist users in changing their cellphone usage habits whenever they are behind the wheel, the site states. Activation is $11.99 with a recurring annual fee.
- The Vehawk app tracks a driver's cellphone usage during a trip and sends notifications to the account holder (most likely a parent) when texting while driving has been detected. The account holder can access other information online such as detailed maps of each route, each text or call that was made during the trip and where they happened along the route. It also can track other dangerous driving behavior like speeding.
- Sprint Drive First is a free app for Sprint customers with Android phones that automatically detects when a phone is in a moving vehicle and puts it in driving mode. Once in driving mode, the phone screen is locked to prevent access to calls, text messages and other alerts. Incoming calls are routed to voicemail and texts can be auto replied to with a customizable message from the phone's owner.