Distracted Driving: Entrepreneurs Take Opportunity To Tackle Driver Safety

July 23, 2010

9:35 am

Distracted driving is sure to become a safety epidemic as our need to be connected strengthens and more and more people decide to respond to that one text message or place a call while driving. Most people probably associate distracted driving with texting, but research shows that driving while simply talking on a cell phone with a headset or other hands-free device is just as dangerous and distracting. So this raises the question – should talking and texting while driving be banned all together while operating an automobile? It’s easy to automatically say no, until you nearly get run over while crossing the street by a stereotypical teenager or soccer parent with a cellphone glued to the side of their head.

Here are some key, and somewhat disturbing, findings from a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (June 2010):

  • 47% of all texting adults say they have sent or read a text message while driving. 34% of texting teens ages 16-17 said they had “texted while driving” in a September 2009 survey.
  • 27% of all American adults say they have sent or read text messages while driving. 26% of all American teens ages 16-17 reported texting at the wheel in 2009.
  • 75% cell-owning adults say they have talked on a cell phone while driving. 52% of cell-owning teens ages 16-17 reported talking on a cell phone while driving in the 2009 survey.
  • 61% of adults have talked on a cell phone while driving and 43% of all American teens ages 16-17 have done so as well.
  • 49% of all adults say they have been in a car when the driver was sending or reading text messages on their cell phone.
  • 44% of all adults say they have been in a car when the driver used the cell phone in a way that put themselves or others in danger.
  • 17% cell-owning adults say they have physically bumped into another person or an object because they were distracted by talking or texting on their phone.

The U.S. Department of Transportation took a firm stance against distracted driving by launching Distraction.gov. The site is the official U.S. government website on distracted driving. It pulls in the latest news about the topic with headlines that include everything from recent states that have banned texting while driving to the latest innovations in the field.

Last January, Oprah even rallied support for curbing distracted driving by launching her “No Phone Zone” Campaign asking her fans and followers to take the pledge to stop using their cell phones while driving. She even went as far as to interview U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood about road safety.

In talking with Dr. Frank J. Gruber IV Ph.D., Director C.E.E.T. Traffic Safety Institute, N.I.U., an expert on drivers safety technology (disclosure: happens to also be my father) he had this this to say of distracted driving:

“The human brain cannot multi-task well enough to handle the driving tasks around us while directing brain power to engage in a phone conservation.”

Driver education is also important in addressing distracted driving which is sure to be a hot topic at the upcoming American Driver and Traffic Safety Association Conference in St. Louis at the end of the month.

With all of the attention on driver safety a few startup companies have emerged with different solutions to distracted driving. We took a look at five which include ZoomSafer, Auto Text, iZup, tXtBlocker, DriveSafe.ly and CellSafety.

Startups Take on Distracted Driving

Startups Take on Distracted Driving

Reston, Virginia based startup ZoomSafer offers a solution for most BlackBerry devices that offers call or text redirection with auto-responders when the handset is in motion (faster than 10 mph based on your GPS location). While ZoomSafer does not completely disable the phone, it does let you know when messages from certain priority contacts try to contact you. It then enables users to have messages read out loud at the push of a button. Additionally, ZoomSafer lets users set a personalized safety reminder that will play in the car when driving and trying to use your phone. The video (below) shows a detailed demonstration of just how ZoomSafer works. ZoomSafer is currently priced at $2.99 per month for the service.

Auto Text, a 99 cent Android and Blackberry application, lets you send an automated reply informing your texting pals that you can’t respond just now. The app lets you customize the message to say you’re driving, or in a meeting, or are otherwise temporarily indisposed. The application was created by San Diego-area based Isaiah King who was inspired to create application after a friend was seriously injured in a texting-while-driving accident.

iZup a mobile application created by Illume Software, a Newton, Massachusetts based startup, renders your mobile device nearly powerless while driving. It holds all your text messages, e-mails and calls while you’re driving, yet always allows unlimited access to 911 and a list of authorized phone numbers. The application works on iPhone, Android, Blackberry and more. Also, Illume donates five percent of net proceeds to organizations that educate people on the dangers of cell phone use while driving. The application is currently $4.95 per month or $49.95 annually for a single user and $9.95 per month or $99.95 annually for a family plan.

tXtBlocker is the product of United Efficiency, Inc. a Florida based company that offers a way for parents to take a firm stance on texting while driving as it prevents texting, calling, emailing or Web surfing when the cell phone is in motion. The product also doubles as a tracking device as parents can pinpoint the phone’s location on a map online, so they can track their child real-time. It also allows parents to setup “no cell zones” which could be set to a school or workplace to help keep kids focused. Currently, tXtBlocker offers products for the Blackberry and Windows Mobile with the iPhone, Palm and Android coming soon. The application is $25, plus $10 a month or $100 a year with the option of a family plan available.

DriveSafe.ly a mobile application that reads text (SMS) messages and emails aloud in real time and automatically responds without drivers touching the mobile phone. The application offers a customizable auto-responder and more control over activation than other services. It currently works on Android and Blackberry phones and is free to download. The service is currently $13.99 annually or $3.99 per month for single user or $34.99 annually or $9.99 a month for a family pack.

CellSafety is a product of Irving, Texas based Websafety, Inc and is geared more towards child cell phone safety. The application blocks text, e-mail, Web, chat, Facebook but does not block actual phone calls. This is a loophole which is cause for concern as talking on the phone is just as dangerous as texting while driving. CellSafety offers location tracking and speed monitoring features so you know where your child is 24×7 from anywhere in the world. The application is $10 a month and works on the Blackberry, Android and Nokia phone platforms.

Don’t let technology get in the way of your safety. We urge you to try one of these applications. If you know of another application that you are using or like that does something similar please let us know in the comments below.

Photo Attribution: some guy on his cell phone in traffic by Jim Legans, Jr

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Frank Gruber is the cofounder, CEO and Executive Editor of Tech.Co (formerly Tech Cocktail). He is the author of the book, Startup Mixology, Tech Cocktail’s Guide to Building, Growing, and Celebrating Startup Success. He is also a startup advisor and investor to startups. Find Frank Gruber online and follow him on Twitter at @FrankGruber.

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