Tech That Stops Distracted Driving

Category: Auto , Mobile

As of 2014, “distracted driving” causes more accidents than drunk driving, according to U. S. government statistics. Some may point fingers at mobile makeup artists, rambunctious children, cheeseburgers, and other distractions. But we all know that mobile phones are the real problem. Read on for some solutions…

How to Stop Distracted Driving

Your odds of running into something (or someone) increase twenty-three times if you are texting behind the wheel. And in fact, each year in the U.S. over 3300 people are killed in crashes involving a distracted driver. That's 9 lives lost, every day.

Eighty-nine percent of Americans think texting or sending email while driving is distracting, dangerous, and should be outlawed. Forty-three States and the District of Columbia have banned texting or all phone use while driving. And yet, plenty of people still do it.

The CDC reported in 2011 that 30% of drivers admitted to reading or sending texts or email messages while driving. I'm sure the problem has gotten worse in the past four years, as mobile phone usage explodes, and more young drivers hit the roads with smartphones. (The average teen sends 60-100 texts per day, and the immediacy of the medium makes it hard to refrain while behind the wheel.)

Texting while Driving - Distracted Driving

But let’s not pick on text-based distractions alone. Having a phone glued to the side of your head doesn’t help you look both ways before pulling out from a stop sign or making a turn. Forget “hands free” gimmicks that only help drivers hide what they’re doing from the cops. Several studies have shown there is no difference in accident rates for hands-free vs. hands-on phone use while driving. Conversation or even passively listening to someone talk is a hazardous distraction no matter where the phone is.

Even Verizon has long supported laws to ban phone use while driving. But despite laws and education programs, drivers continue to use phones and cause accidents, even fatalities. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported over 3,300 deaths and 420,000 injuries involving distraction driving in 2012.

Verizon estimates that over 660,000 of its customers are using their phones while driving at any given moment. No, they are not all teenagers; AT&T reports that 43% of adult customers it surveyed admit to texting while driving. On a personal level, I estimate that two out every ten drivers I see have a phone glued to their skulls; plenty more are looking at their laps, presumably texting (or reading a text message) on the sly. Laws and education aren’t working; maybe technology can stop distracted driving.

Technology to the Rescue?

Way back in the mid-90s, a friend of mine suggested equipping phones and cars with simple, inexpensive circuitry that let them communicate with each other. “If the wheels are turning, the phone won’t work except for 911 calls,” he wished. Of course, it hasn’t happened despite making perfect sense. Heck, modern cars already communicate with phones and other mobile devices; all that’s needed is an app for this particular application. There are some apps that discourage phone use while driving. Here are a few examples:

Live2Txt or “Live To Text” in standard English. It cost $1.99. It blocks incoming (not outgoing) calls and texts with just a click of a button. It’s handy for other “do not disturb” situations, too. People trying to reach you will receive a text message explaining that you’re unavailable temporarily. You can change the settings on your Android or iOS phone to temporarily block texting without Live2Txt, but it’s not pushbutton-easy.

AT&T’s DriveMode is a free app that blocks incoming (but not outgoing) calls and texts when it “detects that you are driving” faster than 20 mph. It probably uses GPS to estimate one’s speed, and blithely ignores the possibility that you could be bicycling, sitting in the passenger seat, or riding a bus or train. It can send a “temporarily unavailable” text, too. It even snitches on teens by notifying parents if the DriveMode app is turned off.

The Canary Project is for helicopter parents who want to be notified when their children use a phone in any way (while driving or not); when they travel too far from home; their current location (yes, of course the GPS location of a teen’s phone reveals the teen’s location) and even when a weather alert is issued for a teen’s location. This is the app to get if you want your kids to be safe and hate you.

There are other distraction-discouraging apps on the market. TXTShield and TextLimit are similar to AT&T DriveMode but are password-protected so teens can’t (easily) disable them; they also cost $3.99 and $24/year, respectively. But they, too, rely on GPS-derived speed for their definition of “driving,” and unless you’re a teenager with controlling parents they are entirely voluntary.

TextBuster is a solution that seems a bit smarter to me. It prevents the teenage driver (but not passengers) from accessing all text, email or internet functions while driving their vehicle only. The TextBuster device attaches to the car's fuse panel or OBDII connector, and communicates with an app on the phone via Bluetooth. When the vehicle is started, the app takes over your phone's screen, allowing only phone calls and GPS navigation. If the app is deleted or disabled, a parent will be notified via text message. (Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems easy enough to defeat this system by simply unplugging the gadget under the dashboard.)

That leaves adults free to kill themselves and other people’s babies. It’s not good enough. Some variant of my friend’s idea, integrated into the electronics of both the car and the phone, is the only solution that will end the carnage. But that would require the cooperation of auto, phone and law makers. And sadly, none of them are likely to go there, because they know it will be an unpopular move.

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Most recent comments on "Tech That Stops Distracted Driving"

(See all 23 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

28 Apr 2015

How much more hazardous is it to drive talking on a hands free device versus talking to a passenger in the vehicle?

Posted by:

Frank WA8WHP
28 Apr 2015

I have been a ham for 48 years and ran mobile for 46 of those including mobile CW. I have never had an accident due to that and have worked all continents of the world but Antarctica. You do not need to be distracted while multitasking.

Posted by:

Tom Van Dam
28 Apr 2015

Up front the idea sounds good to disable the phone but then I think, how am I going to use the gps on the phone. It has verbal commands so I don't have to look at it to get driving instructions. This would defeat gps on a lot of phones.

Posted by:

John Silberman
28 Apr 2015

Until hands free in enforced by the law, people will always text and drive. Florida is struggling to make it a law against texting and driving. Florida won't even consider hands free. I like California as they enforce hands free devices which includes GPS and lipstick in addition to cell phones.

Posted by:

28 Apr 2015

How do you rate Bluetooth phone technology, not including texting which I am strongly against. To talking to a passenger in the car. Personally I can see no difference, if you are going to say no Bluetooth phone conversations, will it be no passenger conversations next?

Posted by:

John Silberman
28 Apr 2015

Until hands free in enforced by the law, people will always text and drive. Florida is struggling to make it a law against texting and driving. Florida won't even consider hands free. I like California as they enforce hands free devices which includes GPS and lipstick in addition to cell phones.

Posted by:

28 Apr 2015

The manufactures of the tech gadgets can sure make a fortune off of stupidity and the human race is making sure the demand will always be there.Will we ever get to the stage where we will be able to sell a second hand human brain.If we do there is a fortune to be made there too.
There is no shortage of like new,(never used) one to be picked up, given a little shake and re-sold.
A great article Bob.It would be great if we lived in a world where articles like this one wasn't necessary but we need a reminder every once in a while that you can't fix stupid. Thanks.

Posted by:

28 Apr 2015

Watching a show the other day; I found it quite amusing that a driver would carry-on a conversation with a passenger, making continuous eye contact, still keeping their vehicle on the road. And we wonder where people get the idea of invincibility. Tech can't fix stupid....

Posted by:

28 Apr 2015

BR: That leaves adults free to kill themselves and other people’s babies. It’s not good enough. Some variant of my friend’s idea, integrated into the electronics of both the car and the phone, is the only solution that will end the carnage. But that would require the cooperation of auto, phone and law makers. And sadly, none of them are likely to go there, because they know it will be an unpopular move.

ZZ: Remember that auto makers also resisted mandatory seat belts, air bags, and almost anything else related to safety that would raise production costs and sticker prices but not increase profit. :-(

Posted by:

Richard Christensen
28 Apr 2015

The statistics mentioned in your article Bob indicate to me that distracted driving is a problem. Individuals can argue this until there is a blue moon in the sky. Bottom line for me is that if you are concerned about the well being of other human beings you will not do stuff that makes it unsafe to drive for both you and other humans. It all comes down to good either have it or you want to exclusively pursue your own interests!

Posted by:

29 Apr 2015

Since the article is about distracted driving (anything that changes the drivers' focus from safely operating the vehicle) we must include the previously not mentioned distractions of eating, drinking, changing clothes, shoes, adjusting hair, applying make-up, chasing the dropped french fries, cussing out the burger drips and the ever popular 'extracurricular activities'.

ALL are valid distractions and cannot be brushed aside to only concentrate on playing with PED's. If ya'll plan to thump on a pulpit about wrongs, be realistic, roll up your sleeves and let's put lipstick on that pig.

Posted by:

Denis Ferguson
29 Apr 2015

The difference between a conversation with a passenger and someone on the phone is that the passenger is in the same situation as the driver, so when a higher level of concentration is required by the driver, the conversation can be paused. It is less socially acceptable to have a sudden stop in the phone conversation and subconsciously the driver places a higher priority on it.It is more dangerous.
RT use is more closely akin to a passenger/driver conversation than to a phone call in that both parties are situationally aware and pauses are acceptable.

Posted by:

Bob R
29 Apr 2015

Cellcontrol ( is a solution that works with any car made after 1996. It’s an inexpensive tamper-proof distracted driver solution that blocks Android and iPhone text messages and phone calls when the car is in motion. The product can also alert you to speeding. It's available at their site or at Wal-Mart for a 1-time price of $89.

With the addition of the optional Cellcontrol DriveID, only the driver's phone is blocked leaving passengers free to talk, text and browse. DriveID received the CES 2014 Best of Innovations Honors and was featured on a Today Show episode: If we still had teen drivers at home, I would be buying this. Even without teens it might be a worthwhile investment so you can avoid temptation.

NOTE: I do not work for this company, but I previously worked for a reseller partner. I tested this extensively and installed it at many customers. It's an excellent product.

Posted by:

29 Apr 2015

While I am against things that limit our freedom, after having my son killed by a semi-truck driver who felt the need text while going 60 mph, I would agree to many things that limit phone use while driving. I am tired of being run off the road. It's illegal in Illinois to talk/text while driving, yet I see the cops doing it! I think Bluetooth is a little safer. I hate that, I think it is Chevy, has come out with a "safe" way to text in their new models.

Posted by:

29 Apr 2015

I really, don't have a problem with using a Bluetooth device, while you are driving. You can still concentrate on your driving, with a Bluetooth device. I know, I have done it.

As for texting ... Total different problem!!! It is bad, bad, bad to text, while driving. A true story.

Back in the mid 90's, I worked in surgery, on the 3-11 shift. One night, we had a procurement (the taking of organs, for human transplantation). The patient was a good looking young man, in his early 30's, who had be declared brain dead. There were no broken bones, he simply looked, like he was sleeping, peacefully.

The cause of this tragedy ... Was TEXTING while driving!!! Not a lot of cell phones were in use, at that time, but, there were some, where you could text and there were even beepers, where you could text. I am not sure, if, it was a cell phone or a beeper, but, the bottom line ... Is this man's life was ended ... Because, he had to text!!!

The strange thing, the procurement team told me, that texting while driving, was the number one reason, for procurement!!! Texting had replaced Mob-Ped accidents. Bottom line, all most people see is the technology ... Medical/Surgical people see the results of technology, on a daily basis. Technology is both good and bad. Believe me, today's hospitals and doctors could NOT function, without technology!!! It is when technology is abused, that tragedies occur.

Posted by:

Don Trotman
29 Apr 2015

How about making it compulsory for drivers to wear gloves?

Posted by:

Ian Thompson
29 Apr 2015

Phoning & texting are illegal in the UK, although the fine is not as high as it should be.

Posted by:

29 Apr 2015

My daughter bought a Ford, do not know what kind, and she made phone calls by just pushing a button. She did not use a phone she just talked into something while she was driving. I asked her How did ya do that? And she said by phone through the car.

Anyway she made a call just by saying who she wanted to call and had a conversation with no phone in hand. Just driving and talking Wow

Posted by:

04 May 2015

How hard is this? I can think of three ways to disable texting that are not defeatable:

1. All cell phones can be tracked by the towers and could detect each phone's motion. If over 10 mph then texting is disabled

2. Many cell phones have GPS. Have it run in the background to detect speed. Over 10 mph? Deny access to texting.

3. A near-field-device implanted in the steering wheel and the phone would disable the driver's phone but not the passenger's phones. Could be linked to speed detection as above.

Posted by:

26 Oct 2015

Denis' answer to James' question about why conversing with passengers is not equally dangerous was exactly right. Callers often do not even know that they are speaking with someone who is driving at that moment. Even if informed, a caller will have no idea why the driver may be momentarily silent. It could be to ponder the next comment, or because they did not hear the question (with the driver then subject to pressure if the question gets repeated). But it could be that the driver is confused by a road sign, or trying to steer around a hazard..or has already crashed into something.

On the other hand, a passenger is literally in the same boat (well...the same car) as the driver and will know to pause the conversation based on the situation. (Kids, and non-drivers with no experience of their own behind the wheel are not quite as good at that, however.)

Radios and music systems are very minor distractions, since there is no interaction on the part of the driver - except maybe singing along out-of-tune! That said, the WebMD article at Bob's link points out that the use of one's brain for any non-driving tasks can reduce alertness and response time. So even calls with a handfree headset should be limited to incoming calls and only those so urgent that the caller can't wait for you to make the next exit, park safely and call them back.

As for sending or reading texts while driving, there is no excuse at all for that. It can always wait until you have parked somewhere. Since everyone, especially young people, are now texting almost exclusively instead of calling, this problem is going to get a lot worse if nothing effective is done about it.

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