AT&T has introduced an iOS version of its AT&T DriveMode mobile app to encourage iOS users not to answer or reply to text messages on their mobile devices while they are operating a motor vehicle. The new iOS version joins the existing Android version of DriveMode.
The new app was unveiled Nov. 5 in an announcement by AT&T that also presented the results of a related study about technology addiction and compulsions that encourage users to constantly check their devices for messages. The study and the iOS app are part of AT&T’s “Texting and Driving … It Can Wait” public service campaign, which began in 2010 as a way to remind mobile users that no text is worth dying over while operating a motor vehicle.
The AT&T DriveMode app for iPhone, which can now be downloaded from the Apple App Store, silences incoming text message alerts and turns on automatically when the user’s devices are moving in a vehicle at 15 mph or more, according to AT&T. The app lets text notifications begin again shortly after the vehicle is stopped. “When activated, it automatically responds to incoming SMS and MMS text messages so the sender knows the text recipient is driving,” according to the announcement. The app also allows parents with young drivers to receive a text message if the app is manually turned off so that parents can be notified of the app shutdown.
The accompanying survey regarding mobile text messages and our reactions to them was conducted by Dr. David Greenfield, the founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at The University of Connecticut School of Medicine, under commission by AT&T. The results of the survey found that cell phone addiction is a problem, with three of four people admitting to at least glancing at their phones while behind the wheel.
“We compulsively check our phones because every time we get an update through text, email or social media, we experience an elevation of dopamine, which is a neurochemical in the brain that makes us feel happy,” Greenfield said in a statement. “If that desire for a dopamine fix leads us to check our phones while we’re driving, a simple text can turn deadly.”
The study was conducted as part of AT&T’s efforts to help people find ways to resist the urge to text and drive, which could have disastrous and deadly consequences. While over 90 percent of the respondents said they know that texting and driving is dangerous, many rationalize their texting-and-driving behavior, which is a classic sign of addiction, according to Greenfield.
Two vehicle safety experts contacted by eWEEK had differing opinions about the effectiveness of efforts to discourage texting while driving.
Kara Macek, a spokeswoman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, called the new AT&T app “a great tool” that’s now available for the widely popular Apple smartphone platform. “We totally support any efforts to curb texting while driving. We think it’s great because technology is creating the problem, but is also offering some great solutions.”
AT&T Releases iOS Version of Its Text-Preventing DriveMode App
Macek said that any tool that is available to parents to help curb or stop the compulsion of their younger drivers to constantly check incoming texts while driving is a good idea. “That’s what it really boils down to,” she said. “It’s the behavior. We are compelled to stay in touch all the time.”
The AT&T DriveMode apps for iOS or Android can be used to self-regulate drivers who might be tempted to text or check their texts while they are driving, she said. “We definitely would recommend that parents utilize it for their novice drivers. Young drivers have the double disadvantage of being inexperienced and also being glued to their phones. You’re not just endangering yourself, but you are endangering everyone else on the road.”
Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told eWEEK in an email reply that while it is good to try to stop people from texting using such apps, “thus far it’s not clear that a lot of people are interested in using them.”
Where such apps can be effective, Rader wrote, is with corporate fleet drivers to enforce cell phone use policies or by parents who want to restrict texting by their teen drivers. “At the same time, though, research shows that distracted driving is much bigger than just phone use and texting,” wrote Rader. “Drivers distract themselves by doing a lot of other things when they’re not using a phone; they groom themselves, eat, fiddle with the radio, talk to passengers, scold the kids or just daydream.”
What that means is that the fight to reduce distracted driving will take more than apps, he said. “It’s going to take broader strategy aimed at all the things drivers do that are distracting. Technology may help, but it will be technology that has a broader reach than just targeting phone use.”
That means things like crash avoidance systems that are being seen on some new vehicles that can scan the road ahead, alert drivers of impending hazards or a collision, and even automatically apply the brakes if the driver doesn’t react fast enough, wrote Rader. “This kind of technology may be beneficial in helping to reduce crashes resulting from distractions of all kinds.”
Interestingly, a study on texting and driving by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that was released in December 2013 found that although teens are usually cited as being the biggest offenders, adult drivers ages 25-39 were the most likely to admit engaging in these risky behaviors behind the wheel. The data came from a sample of 2,325 licensed drivers, ages 16 and older.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one out of every 10 fatal crashes involves distraction, resulting in more than 3,000 deaths per year, although experts agree the numbers are likely underestimated.