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Oh My Tech: Tips and apps to curb texting while driving

Published October 17, 2013 9:02 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I have this friend who is always looking at his iPhone. We go to lunch, and he'll look at his texts and Facebook posts right while I'm talking to him. We'll be taking a walk, and he'll pull out his phone and glance at it mid-conversation.

I'd like to think that I'm a fairly charming and interesting guy, so I think the problem is his, not mine. I've chastised him dozens of times for his rude behavior. Then a couple of weeks ago, I REALLY got mad at him.

I was driving home from work and noticed him behind me in his car, face buried in his phone while he drove. Later, I told him he was going to kill someone else before I had a chance to kill HIM for his stupidity.

The fact is, everyone has a friend like mine. Or perhaps, you are texing or posting online while driving and don't even know it. 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 involving 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 http://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.

Windows Phone • 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.

iPhone • The iPhone has 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 the case while you're driving. You can even set it to permanently silence calls and alert. You also can scheduled a time hen 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 the new iOS 7 upgrade, 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 iPhone's voice assistant, to send or read them aloud. The latest version of the phone's operating system, iOS 7, 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.

Android • 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.

Other apps • 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 continously utilize the phone's GPS receiver.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to http://www.sltrib.com/Topics/ohmytech.