Be Smart: Apps to Stop Texting and Driving

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It's not rocket science: Texting while driving is dumb, not to mention dangerous. Yet we still do it, especially teenagers who as new drivers should be taking extra precautions. According to an AT&T commuter survey, 49 percent of commuters admitted to texting while driving. But the statistics don't lie. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute Research says that those who text and drive are 23 times more likely to be in a crash. Apparently the temptation to constantly be in touch with loved ones outweighs the desire to stay safe.

But even cellphone carriers have banded together to stop texting and driving, all uniting behind AT&T's "It Can Wait" campaign. All of the Big Four carriers are backing the multi-million dollar campaign, all the while acknowledging that the products they put out can indeed be dangerous. Plus, three out of the Big Four have their own apps to curb texting while driving. (T-Mobile did have its own app, DriveSmart, but it discontinued. A T-Mobile spokesperson said, "DriveSmart was a great idea, but we found there were others in the software developer ecosystem who were offering better solutions that we could.")

Luckily there are a slew of apps out there to make it easier for you to avoid texting while driving. However, it's worth noting that only one of these apps is supported in Apple's App Store, so parents may want to reconsider getting their newly driving teenager an iPhone. From safety apps by carriers to apps that let you respond to texts using voice to apps that block your phone from receiving messages while your car is in motion, these apps protect you from yourself.

AT&T DriveMode (Android; free)

AT&T gives its customers a way to avoid texting distractions while driving with its AT&T DriveMode app. You can set up auto-replies that are sent to incoming texts, emails and calls, then when you're driving you don't have to worry about responding to anything that comes to your mobile device.

Notification sounds are silenced when you're on the road, and you don't even have the option to read or compose texts or emails. However, DriveMode does let you make or receive calls for up to five people, and you can always call 911. Plus, you can access one music and navigation app while you're driving.

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Verizon Safely Go (Android; free)

Verizon's Safely Go app blocks out everyone but three special people from contacting you while you're on the road. Pick who your three VIP contacts are, like your spouse or your boss. Those people can get through to you, but everyone else will receive an auto-reply if they attempt to get in touch. However, you can receive calls through Bluetooth or any hands-free device, and you get access to three of your top driving apps, like Google Maps or Pandora.

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Sprint Drive First (Android; $2/month)

Sprint's attempt to protect its customers from the dangers of texting and driving is Drive First, an app that automatically locks your phone when your vehicle goes faster than 10mph. That way, you can't receive texts, calls or emails.

However, it's compatible with Bluetooth and hands-free devices, and you can control music and navigation apps even when the phone is locked. And there's a small number of contacts you can receive phone calls from when Drive First is enabled. Drive First has a 15-day free trial, then it's $2 per month.

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Safe Driving Text Machine (Android; free)

If you text while driving because you don't want your friends to think you're ignoring them, Safe Driving Text Machine has you covered. The app automatically detects driving conditions and responds to incoming texts with custom auto-replies. It's only activated when an incoming text comes through, so it doesn't drain your battery by running in the background.

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In addition to limiting users from texting while driving, Text-STAR aims to enlighten drivers so they learn what driving mistakes they're making and how to improve. The app assigns you a driver-specific personalized score based on your driving performance and the use of your phone while in motion.

Once you're given your performance breakdown, you can use that info to improve your driving. We can see Text-STAR being ideal for parents with new teen drivers, and them using the app as a conversation starter on how to improve driving. As you improve, you can get in touch with your insurance carrier, which may participate in Text-STAR's Preferred Carrier Network for discounts.

An Auto-Engage mode engages Text-STAR's personal texting assistant upon driving faster than 10mph, while Manual mode sends auto-replies when you're on the move. Plus, a Passenger mode lets you use your phone like you would normally, but only if you're a passenger in the car and not the driver.

More: 10 Amazingly Dumb Things We Do with Smartphones (Android; free)

You want to be safe while driving, but you really can't go your entire commute ignoring incoming texts and calls. compromises by reading your texts and emails aloud and letting you respond using your voice. That way, you won't be as distracted with looking down at your phone to type replies.

However, a recent study by the Texas Transportation Institute found that it might be just as unsafe to use a voice-to-text mobile app while driving as texting while driving so this app is only advisable if you absolutely must receive and send messages behind the wheel.

More: 5 Best Keyboard Apps for Android

Canary (Android, iOS; free)

Canary helps parents find out when their teenagers are texting, talking, speeding or using social media behind the wheel -- without having to be in the car with them. The app sends parents alerts in real-time whenever their teen has done one of the above actions while driving faster than 12mph, along with details like call volumes, locations and driving speeds. Parents can also set off-limits areas and get alerts when their child has traveled beyond those limits, or set curfew via the app.

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Molly Klinefelter, LAPTOP Assistant Editor
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1 comment
  • Erik Wood Says:

    Text and Drive recently became the #1 killer of teens in the US - more lethal than drunk driving. I think its starting to become clear that legislation has value in raising public awareness in forums like this one but it will be difficult to solely legislate our way out of this issue. I also read that over 3/4 of teens text daily - many text more than 4000 times a month. New college students no longer have email addresses! They use texting and Facebook - even with their professors. Tweens (ages 9 -12) send texts to each other from their bikes.

    I decided to do something about distracted driving after my three year old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting driver. Instead of a shackle that locks down phones and alienates the user, I built a texting asset called OTTER that is a simple and intuitive GPS based, texting auto reply app for smartphones. While driving, OTTER silences those distracting call ringtones and chimes unless a bluetooth is enabled. The texting auto reply allows anyone to schedule a ‘texting blackout period’ in any situation like a meeting or a lecture without feeling disconnected. This software is a social messaging tool for the end user that also empowers this same individual to be a sustainably safer driver.

    Erik Wood, owner
    OTTER app (Free. Since 2010)
    do one thing well... be great.

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