Text messaging apps: solution to texting while driving accidents?

Texting while driving is continuously cited as a reason behind many deadly accidents. Mobile text messaging apps that alert parents to text messages sent on the road may be a part of a solution.

Tammy Shriver/Times-West Virginian/AP
Texting while driving is continuously cited as a reason behind many deadly accidents. Mobile text messaging apps that alert parents to text messages sent on the road may be a part of a solution. West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin spoke to college students last month about Senate Bill 211 also know as the Anti-Texting Bill that will make texting while driving a primary offense.

My son Sam has an idea for an app to help stop texting while driving: “When you’re driving and a friend texts you, the app sends back an automatic text saying ‘Sorry, I’m driving, I can’t answer your text. Back 2 u soon.’” Or, for phone calls, the app lets you record yourself in a message for callers that says something like that.

Sam suggested that when he saw I was writing about a new survey finding that 44% of 16-to-24-year-old drivers say friends are the biggest influence on them for curbing their texting while driving. It found that parents were the next greatest influence at 33%.

The survey, by the Ad Council, was released today for “Stop the Texts Day,” from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the US’s state attorneys general, and the Ad Council. It also found that 60% of those drivers said they’d texted while driving. Of that 60%, the majority said they’d continue to do so even knowing that TWD causes accidents.

On the solution side, 88% said a law against TWD would encourage them to stop or text less while driving, and 96% “said large fines, a suspended license and/or jail time, higher insurance rates and other financial and legal consequences would encourage them” to stop. Fining was a suggestion made by a commercial driver on the “Stop the Texts” Facebook page. He said that, when commercial drivers “get caught using a hand held device,” they get fined $2,700 and their company gets fined $11,000.

As for software help: There is a new game app for upping drivers’ awareness of their phone use behind the wheel. Maybe its creators will add Sam’s feature (I couldn’t find an app in Apple’s store which does what he proposed).

Logically called “App4Drivers,” it’s available now for the iPhone and soon for Android phones, says the 1:12 video on YouTube about it. Players lose points for answering calls and texts.

But it’s not just about phone use in the car: “Reasonable acceleration, smooth turns, and easy braking get better scores.” The app “keeps a tally of any phone use while it’s on,” so teens can actually show their parents how responsible their driving is. I like the game aspect.

AT&T has an app that does provide exactly what Sam had in mind – an “away text.” It’s called DriveMode, an idea from AT&T consumer advocate Shavonne Jones, who lost a friend of 32 years in a car accident caused by another driver who was texting while driving on a highway.

For now, DriveMode is only for Android and BlackBerry (get going, Apple!). AT&T spokesperson Andrea Brands told me it has already been downloaded 51,000 times.

For parents who are at home and want to know where their child is while driving but don’t want them to text their location, there’s Glympse’s tracking with a time limit (the tagline’s cute: “Share your where”); I like that its use is preceded by parent-child communication). For more TWD controls apps check out our friends at iKeepSafe.org.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.

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