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Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Tools to monitor texting and driving and other distractions

11

July

Yesterday on the SOS Computer Talk Show (WGUL 860 AM radio) we talked about a report that recently was released by the Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA) which stated that up to 25 percent of all traffic accidents are now related to distracted driving. Distracted driving includes things like fiddling with the stereo or GPS, eating, putting on makeup, talking on a cellphone and yes, texting while driving. Here's the podcast version of the show, if you want to listen to the discussion.

The Gadget Guy on WGUL AM 860 - SOS Computer Show - 7.10.11 by timesgadgetguy

The full GHSA report, which you can download here, contains a lot of information about various driving distractions and the data definitely indicates that talking on cell phones and texting are main contributors to accidents. Unfortunately, however, the report also says efforts to ban calling and texting while driving have an effect immediately after implementation but there is no proof they have a long-term impact on the accident rate.

Teens are often targeted in the texting and driving debate and I can tell you from what I see on the roads, it's not just teens who are texting at the wheel. Teens are more likely to have accidents, however, because their driving skills are still developing. No matter the age of the driver, personal responsibility is the key to this. A key phrase that came out of our discussion on the show yesterday was: "Gadgets don't kill people. People kill people." Where have you heard that before?

In a past blog post I introduced some gadgets that would help you text, update your Facebook status and send a tweet to Twitter while driving without taking your hands from the wheel. I'm switching gears now and want to show you some apps and a gadget that will monitor your driving and issue reports to document your driving habits and how they may be impacted by distractions. These things are marketed to be used for teen drivers but really, are good for anyone.

iGuardianTeen for Android - The iGuardianTeen Android app is the most complete app I've seen for monitoring driving habits. With the app loaded in the driver's smartphone, it can be set to automatically send all kinds of alerts via text and email parents or other designated people. The app also has incoming call suppression and will mute the phone ringer, turn vibration off and divert incoming calls directly to voice mail when it's running. Various parameters can be set for the alerts, including speed, braking force and g-force measurement (for turns).

ss-320-1-2.jpgIn addition to all of that, the iGuardianTeen app also records video of each drive and automatically attaches a video file of the last five minutes of the drive to a driving report that is emailed at the end of each session. This feature can capture the conditions that lead to an accident or near-accident and can be used as a training tool. The driving report also records when a text message or phone call is made, so those activities can be monitored.

I gave this app a try yesterday and intentionally did things to trigger the alerts. When the speed, g-force and braking limits were broken the phone immediately sounded an annoying alarm and sent text messages to me (on my iPhone) saying I was exceeding the limits. The report I received at the end of the session was very detailed too. Take a look at this sample report:

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There are too many features to list so you can read about all of them here. This app is very comprehensive and works extremely well. At $4.99 it's a great value too.

Safe Driver Pro for iPhone - The closest thing I could find to iGuardianTeen on the iOS platform was the Safe Driver Prop app. Safe Driver Pro has several of the same features but lacks many more. You can set up multiple cars, which is nice, and set similar parameters for acceleration, deceleration and turning limits. Email and text notifications can be sent when the parameters have been exceeded but and a driving report for the whole session can be sent via email. That report includes a map with drop pins indicating where the session started and ended and where the violations occurred. That feature is nice, but still this app is lacking compared to iGuardianTeen. To get the Pro version of Safe Driver, download the free version (which has many features disabled) and upgrade with an in-app purchase of $4.99.

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For both iGuardianTeen and Safe Driver Pro the phone used must be mounted in the car vertical position to work properly. Mounts are available on the iGuardianTeen site and other places.

SafeDriver by Lemur Monitors - This is another product called SafeDriver and it's not an app. It's a small, key chain monitor that talks to a wireless module attached to the OBDll (Onboard Diagnostics) port in your car. It monitors the driver's speed, distance traveled and sudden or erratic braking and displays the results on the key chain device. If the OBDll module is removed, a tamper notification is displayed so you know the driver removed the module when driving. This is a more passive system since it doesn't send any live text or email alerts, but that means it also operates in a less obtrussive way.

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When I was a kid it was DWI and that changed to DUI. Now the biggest threat to our safety on the roads is DWT and DWD (Driving while texting and distracted). It's a serious issue, not just for teens but for everyone. So these gadgets can help anyone who wants to know how they're doing behind the wheel. If you think this doesn't apply to you because you have "mad skills" or whatever,  I challenge you to use one of these monitors and report back with your findings. I think you'll be shocked by the results.

 

[Last modified: Monday, July 11, 2011 12:32pm]

    

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