INSIDE MOBILE: Using Mobile Technology to Prevent Texting While Driving

By J. Gerry Purdy  |  Posted 2010-03-18

INSIDE MOBILE: Using Mobile Technology to Prevent Texting While Driving

You've undoubtedly seen a news segment on TV or in the press recently about the dangers of texting while driving. I can tell you that I've stopped doing it. My current rule: only text when I'm stopped at a traffic light or when not in a car. I feel I'm protecting myself and those around me by simply putting the phone down when the car's moving.

Many states have already enacted legislation outlawing the behavior of texting while driving. These laws send an important message to everyone: it's against the law to text while driving. Also, automobile insurance companies such as AllState Insurance support the growing number of states that are passing laws outlawing texting while driving.

I agree that these laws should be enacted. After all, its common sense that texting is a major distraction while driving. Recently, I was driving southbound on Georgia 400, just north of I-285 in Atlanta. A woman who was going close to 80 mph in the left lane came past me. I looked over and was aghast: she had her elbows on the steering wheel and was holding a BlackBerry up in her hands above the steering wheel-and was texting away. I quickly moved over a lane to avoid being close to someone who was being so reckless. But, we're going to create a new problem in the process of enacting these "No texting while driving" laws. Here's why.

There's a big problem with these "No texting while driving" laws: they are hard to enforce. How do you know if someone is texting while driving if they are holding the phone in their lap or texting with the phone on the seat or mid-section between the front seats? And, what if you have a medical emergency and need to call for help? It's easy to see there is going to be a lot of confusion on how to enforce the new laws. And we'll have to develop a whole new set of case law around this topic. Prosecutors and defense lawyers will have to deal with an entirely new area of law. I can hear it now: "My client wasn't texting. She was simply listening to music on her phone."

I believe that we need to use mobile technologies to help solve this problem, along with a good dose of education and behavior modification. We need to create a safer environment for everyone in and around a car that's moving at high speed on a highway (or any road for that matter).

Mobile Technology Solutions

Mobile technology solutions

A number of companies have announced various solutions that use mobile technology to prevent texting while driving. Aegis Mobility, Illume Software, iSpeech, odbEdge, Tomahawk Systems, United Efficiency and ZoomSafer are all developing systems that work in various ways to prevent texting while driving.

For example, Illume Software's iZUP solution uses GPS to detect if you're driving on a highway. It runs in the background and comes to life when it detects you are moving faster than a preset velocity, typically 5 mph. Once it detects that the phone is moving more than the preset value, it interrupts the normal operation of the phone with the iZUP application. Subscribers cannot text or make phone calls while the car is moving. iZUP uses mapping information as well as GPS, so it can detect if the car is on a highway or, alternately, on a train or mass transit.

The iZUP Web interface provides the account holder/parent/fleet manager the ability to enter "whitelist" numbers (for example, home, mom or dad). If/when 911 is dialed, iZUP shuts down the application to allow emergency calls. The system then sends a notification to the account holder/parent/fleet manager that 911 was dialed and provides them with the exact location, including a map of where the emergency occurred. Parents will love that feature.

United Efficiency's TXTBlocker works similarly to Illume Software's iZUP; both are client-centric solutions. DriveAssist for Teens by Aegis Mobility is a network-centric solution. It detects when the car is moving, but it redirects all phone communications to a message center which explains that the caller is unavailable because they are driving. It also defers text messages.

Both ZoomSafer and iSpeech's focus on using text-to-speech technology to read text messages to you while you're driving. Safe Driving Systems' Key2SafeDriving and obdEdge's cellcontrol use a hardware dongle in the car that communicates with the user's cell phone via Bluetooth. When the phone gets within range of the dongle in the car, key2SafeDriving turns off the use of the phone and texting.

Personal responsibility while driving

This is an early market. There are not a lot of customers using these systems. The initial focus is to prevent teens from texting while driving but, eventually, enterprises are going to demand some control over the use of their corporate asset (the phone) to help reduce their liability of the phone being part of, or the cause of, an accident by an employee. I'm sure that, eventually, mobile software and hardware to assist in driving safely will become an active part of every vehicle (from small cars to large trucks).

I close by raising a bigger problem than texting while driving: how much distraction is acceptable while driving? Or, perhaps more important, how do we keep drivers focused on their own driving (and of the cars and trucks around them) to keep the vehicle and passengers as safe as possible?

Mobile technology will provide a major contribution to making driving safer, but drivers still are still in final control of a large, fast-moving vehicle. It's what the driver does or doesn't do that determines the final outcome.

J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D. is Principal Analyst of Mobile & Wireless at MobileTrax LLC. As a nationally recognized industry authority, Dr. Purdy focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and market behavior in the mobile computing and wireless data communications industry in North America. Dr. Purdy is an "edge of network" analyst looking at devices, applications and services, as well as wireless connectivity to those devices. Dr. Purdy provides critical insights regarding mobile and wireless devices, wireless data communications and connection to the infrastructure that powers the data in the wireless handheld. He is author of the column Inside Mobile & Wireless that provides industry insights and is read by over 100,000 people a month.

Dr. Purdy continues to be affiliated with the venture capital industry as well. He currently is Managing Director at Yosemite Ventures. And he spent five years as a Venture Advisor for Diamondhead Ventures in Menlo Park where he identified, attracted and recommended investments in emerging companies in mobile and wireless. He has had a prior affiliation with East Peak Advisors and, subsequently, following their acquisition, with FBR Capital Markets. For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people's mind-sets, as well as developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, Dr. Purdy's ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile and wireless industry. He is author of three books as well.

Dr. Purdy currently is a member of the Program Advisory Board of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) which produces CES, one of the largest trade shows in the world. He is a frequent moderator at CTIA conferences and GSM Mobile World Congress.  He also is a member of the Board of the Atlanta Wireless Technology Forum. Dr. Purdy has a B.S. degree in Engineering Physics from University of Tennessee, a M.S. degree in Computer Science from UCLA, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Exercise Physiology from Stanford University. He can be reached at

Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column. If that situation happens, then I'll disclose it at that time.

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