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Phone app stops drivers from texting

posted 6 Feb 2012, 07:51 by Mpelembe   [ updated 6 Feb 2012, 07:52 ]

A new cell phone application limits distracted driving by prohibiting the ability to text or e-mail when the device is traveling more than 15 miles per hour. It can also track the mobile user's location using GPS.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2009, 5,474 people were killed in crashes that involved driver distraction. An estimated 448,000 were injured.
And the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) published a recommendation in December 2011 called "No Call, No Text, No Update". The document proposes that all 50 United States ban the use of mobile devices, including hands-free sets, while operating a vehicle.

NTSB chairwoman, Deborah Hersman says her organization has noticed a substantial increase in accidents over the last decade caused by texting or by people being otherwise distracted by portable electronic devices.

"We know the people on average, when they're texting behind the wheel are looking down and not paying attention to the road for about the length of a football field. They're traveling great distances while they're not looking at what's going on in front of them," Hersman told Reuters.

Technology company Securatrac has released a new phone app, called Securafone. The company's CEO, Chris Holbert hopes the app will help to minimize the incidences of distracted driver accidents.

"It (the app) brings together two different types of traditional applications for mobile phones; one is GPS tracking and emergency response and the other is distracted driver prevention. So, there are a number of companies that have a GPS tracking app that you can put on an iPhone or an Android like ours. The different with ours is that we have that, plus we combine it with a distracted driver piece," said Holbert.

Numerous public safety advertisements have been released by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) attempting to warn drivers about being distracted behind the wheel.

Rita Kaufman is very aware of the dangers of distracted driving. So when her 20-year-old son, Zack started driving in late 2011, she decided to sign up to Securafone.

The app will deny Zack Kaufman access to text messages and e-mail when his Android phone is moving faster than 15 miles (24 kilometers) per hour.

The software also has additional functions allowing Kaufman to set a maximum speed limit for her son, which they have agreed will be 65 miles (104 kilometers) per hour. If Zack Kaufman exceeds that speed limit, Rita Kaufman will receive a message informing her of her son's transgression.

Zack Kaufman says his first reaction was negative.

"Well, initially I was thinking, 'Well why don't you really trust me so much?' But then I began to understand that as a child, as a new driver, I know that it tends to be a huge temptation just to look at your phone, even for just a second. And I've seen footage that you look away just for a second and that's all the difference between life and death," said Zack Kaufman.

Kaufman can also track her son's whereabouts at any time of the day or night and has furthermore created a border in which Zack has agreed to remain. If Zack exits these boundaries, Kaufman will again receive an alert to the affect.

The app download is free and the account costs $8.99 (USD) per month.

Kaufman says she would like to keep using the app for at least the next six months for her own peace of mind.

"For me it's the peace of mind and my peace of mind and knowing that he's safe, it overrides any other issue that I have as a parent," Rita Kaufman explained.

Zack Kaufman says his friends have the same negative reaction he first had to the app -- they don't want their parents to use it on them. But Kaufman says it's been a valuable tool to prevent him from texting and helps to ensure he's safe behind the wheel.

"As much as we would like to say that we don't do it (text) and that we are beyond that habit, we know the dangers of it so it prevents us from doing it, everyone does it. And before I had the app I was doing it and now that I have the app I know I'm not doing it so that just makes me step up," said Zack Kaufman.

Reuters asked several New York drivers what they think about a phone app that restricts text and e-mail use and they all loved the idea.

"There's a lot of phone-related accidents, right? So now we've got to get a app that does not let people drink and drive also, right?" said Rob Lo.

One mother agreed it's an excellent idea for teen drivers.

"The fact that I'm a mother and I have kids, I think that's a great idea. None of them have their license yet, but they're close to it."

And this taxi driver is also concerned for texting pedestrians.

"That's good, so at least people can be safe, drivers can be safe. And also, the people who especially walk on the street, ladies, they're texting, they don't pay attention to the traffic light."

The NHTSA reports that in 2009 sixteen percent of fatal crashes in the U.S.A. involved reports of distracted driving. And in the month of June 2011, more than 196 billion text messages were sent or received in the U.S., up nearly 50 percent from June 2009.