App would keep teens on the road, off the phone -
Published Thursday, August 15, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 3:43 am
Safe driving
App would keep teens on the road, off the phone

LINCOLN — Iowa's latest idea to keep teenagers from texting while driving is capturing attention from across the river.

Iowa plans to offer a smartphone application that blocks texts and calls when a driver is going faster than 15 mph.

The app, to be called TXTL8R, will be offered free next year to Iowa drivers age 14 through 17.

“I think that's a great idea,” said Krista Madden of Lincoln, who had accompanied her 16-year-old son to the Lancaster County driver's licensing station Wednesday.

She said she would be interested in such an app because “you teach them, but sometimes they don't listen.”

Her son, Malik Carter, clutching his new provisional operator's permit, said he would have no problem with such an app.

“I don't text and drive, anyway,” he said.

State Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff applauded the Iowa plan, saying he wants to explore the possibility of something similar in Nebraska.

Options to prevent texting and driving

Textecution ($29.99 one-time charge): Android app cuts off texting ability if the device is moving faster than 10 mph. If a passenger is using the device, he or she may request override from an administrator, such as a parent or employer. If the user tries to remove the app, the administrator gets an alert.

tXtBlocker ($6.99 monthly for a single user): Compatible with a wide range of smartphones, this app lets users customize locations and times of day — such as routine commuting or driving times — when texts and phone calls aren't accepted.

AT&T DriveMode (free): Available for Android and BlackBerry, this app automatically sends a customized reply to incoming texts, like an out-of-office autoreply. It disables incoming and outgoing calls and Web browsing. Users manually enable the app before driving.

DriveSafely ($3.99 per month or $13.95 per year for single user): App reads text messages and emails out loud in real time, including shortcuts such as LOL, and sends an autoresponse.

Source: Nationwide Insurance

“That's a pretty good deal,” he said.

“I think anything you can do to curtail the use of texting while driving is a good idea.”

Harms has long been concerned about the safety of teenagers and the dangers of texting while driving.

A 2009 study found that drivers were 23 times more likely to get into an accident while sending or reading a text message than if not distracted.

Teenagers, who are less experienced behind the wheel, are especially at risk.

Harms has pushed unsuccessfully to allow police to stop drivers for texting behind the wheel.

Both Nebraska and Iowa ban texting while driving, but drivers can be ticketed for the offense only if they are stopped for another traffic violation.

Iowa officials plan the new smartphone app to be part of their safety awareness efforts, said Andrea Henry, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Transportation.

“We thought it was an excellent way to reach especially young drivers,” she said.

Henry said the department is providing the app free to younger drivers, who are less experienced and are the most likely to text while driving.

But it will be available to anyone for a yet-to-be-determined monthly fee, she said.

That includes teens after they turn 18.

Plans call for the department to contract with a vendor to develop and host the app. Officials estimate the cost of development at about $100,000. The money will come from federal highway safety funds.

The app would use the global positioning system functions on Apple and Android smartphones to detect when a vehicle was moving.

At a designated speed, texting and talking would be blocked. The phone would send an automatic message to anyone who attempted to contact the driver, saying that person was unavailable.

There would be a way to bypass the block in emergencies and for passengers.

Parents would also have a portal on a desktop or laptop computer through which they could keep track of their teen's driving.

In addition, parents would receive notice through the portal if the app was disabled or removed.

Several similar apps are available commercially for smartphones. But Henry said those apps frequently have a monthly fee.

Bev Reicks, formerly Bev Neth, the president and CEO of the National Safety Council of Nebraska, was intrigued by Iowa's proposed app.

She said it makes sense for states and policymakers to take the lead on addressing texting while driving.

“Saving the life of one person is probably worth the cost of the app,” she said.

“There's nothing that's that important that it can't wait until you get to your destination.”

Contact the writer: Martha Stoddard    |   402-473-9583    |  

Martha covers the Nebraska Legislature, the governor, state agencies, and health, education and budget issues out of our Lincoln bureau.

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