EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 20, 2013

Apps, tips hinder texting while driving

By Vince Horiuchi
Salt Lake Tribune

---- — Every time I’m in my car, I’ll notice at least two or three drivers texting on the road. It’s become a serious epidemic.

More than 100,000 road accidents a year involve texting, according to the National Safety Council. Studies conducted at the University of Utah show that texting while driving can result in an eight-times greater chance of getting in a crash. That’s twice more likely than if you were legally drunk.

Phone carriers are taking positive steps to tell motorists about the dangers of using digital devices while driving. They’ve even produced a heart-wrenching short film by acclaimed documentarian Werner Herzog that brings home the tragic consequences of texting and driving. (To learn more about their campaign, called “It Can Wait,” go to www.itcanwait.com.)

So technology got us into this mess. Can it help us get out? Sort of.

If you don’t have the wherewithal to not pick up your phone while driving, then there are features and apps that you should know about that can motivate you or a loved one.

For Windows Phone users, an upgrade to the Windows Phone 8 operating system is coming soon that will include a new “Driving Mode” feature.

When you turn this on, it silences all incoming calls and texts so you won’t be tempted to pick it up while driving. It can automatically turn itself on when your phone’s Bluetooth connectivity is activated with a headset or stereo system in the car. It won’t stop you from making outgoing calls and texts, but at least it can prevent you from getting distracted by incoming messages.

For iPhone users, there’s a similar function called “Do Not Disturb.” When activated, it will silence all calls and alerts (including text messages) when the phone is locked, which presumably is the case while you’re driving. You can even set it to permanently silence calls and alerts. You also can schedule a time when the feature turns on (for when you’re sleeping, for example), and you can create exceptions for certain types of calls.

You have to manually switch it on and off each time you get in and out of a car. Go to “Settings,” then “Do Not Disturb” to access all of its functions. Fortunately, in latest version of the phone’s operating system, iOS 7, you can easily access the “Do Not Disturb” switch by swiping up from any screen to get to Control Center. Press the button with a moon icon to engage “Do Not Disturb” before you get into your car.

If you absolutely, positively have to read or send your texts or email while driving, consider using Siri, the voice assistant in newer iPhones, to send or read them aloud. The iOS 7 upgrade allows Siri to read your texts and emails, and you can compose them with just your voice. Doing that can still distract you while driving according to studies, but at least your eyes will stay on the road.

For Android phone users, there are a number of free apps that do what “Do Not Disturb” does for the iPhone. They include apps like “Do Not Disturb Ringer Silencer,” “Do Not Disturb,” “Do Not Disturb Me” or “Silencify.”

These apps, like the iPhone’s “Do Not Disturb,” were really designed for people to turn off their ringers whenever they go into a meeting or a movie, but they also keep the phone from ringing -- and therefore, don’t tempt you to answer it -- while on the road.

There are other, more sophisticated apps available that are specifically designed to stop texting while driving. Apps like AT&T’s “DriveMode” (free), “OneProtect” ($6.95 per month or $76.45 per year), and “Textecution” ($29.99) prevent calls and texts from coming in or going out when the app senses that the phone is going over a certain speed.

Most of these apps allow you to set parameters for when it turns on based on speed and location. I would imagine a downside to these kinds of apps is that they likely will lower your phone’s battery life because they continuously utilize the phone’s GPS receiver.

Salt Lake Tribune writer Vince Horiuchi can be reached at ohmytech@sltrib.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.