The recent and tragic case of the 17-year-old young man from Northern California who, while texting and driving, plowed into a family of three while they were riding bikes, killing the father and 9-year-old daughter, left me hyper-aware. Hyper-aware because that young man could’ve been one of my own sons; hyper-aware because in the bicycle-friendly town that I reside in, a young college student who was riding his bike to school on the very same day as this incident veered right in front of me as I was driving. If I had been texting, I’d have hit him.
Regardless of the state you live in, texting while driving continues to be a huge safety risk to you, your teen and everyone on the road. While I or you may be hyper-aware of the risks, most teens, especially when they’ve gotten “comfortable” with their driving skills, fail to have the same awareness. Texting, checking their social media notifications and tweeting have all become such an integral part of their everyday lives, they don’t really think about where they do it or when they do it.
While your teen, like mine, may consider themselves a “safe driver” because they use their ear buds or voice commands to communicate while driving, the fact is they are still communicating, and thus distracted, while driving – even if it’s legal.
Last year a NHTSA study found that “drivers that use cell phones are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves” and “cell phone use was reported in 18% of distraction-related fatalities in America.” Read more.
Though it’s important to keep a consistent dialogue with your teen about the dangers of texting while driving, your parental guidance may only go so far. After all, ask yourself, how often do YOU pick up your phone to send a “quick” text? Probably more than you’d like to admit, and all the while, even when you know it’s wrong, you still do it.
You can rationalize to yourself that “nothing will happen to me”, but we both know no one is an exception. My question to you is: Are you willing to recognize that same truth when it comes to your teen? If you are, then there are some things you can do to make it easy for your teen to follow your safe-driving rules, and perhaps, a state law.
Here are my recommendations:
Available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store for a one-time fee of $4.99.
MobiLocPlus is an application available for both the iPhone and Android smartphones. It disables the phone from receiving texts, emails, phone calls, and application activity such as Facebook notifications and tweets when the phone’s GPS senses that it is moving faster than 10mph. Once the phone has stopped moving, the phone returns to normal with all the missed texts, emails, calls, and application activity able to be viewed as normal.
Installation of the application is very simple and only took about two minutes. Once you’ve downloaded and installed MobiLocPlus, everything is ready to go. The application will start itself when the GPS system detects that the phone is moving faster than 10mph. Note: The GPS system has to be on for the application to work.
- iPhone: Settings > General > Location Services > Set to “on”
- Android: Settings > Location and security > Make sure “Use GPS satellites” is checked
We tested the application on multiple Android smartphones and it worked perfectly well on all of them. The application itself loads quickly, is fairly unobtrusive, and as long as the GPS is on it automatically activates. Like it said it would, MobiLocPlus blocked all texts, calls and Facebook messages that we sent to the phones and all the blocked activity appeared on the phone when we stopped driving. Below is a screenshot of the application’s user interface.
Are there ways for my child to disable the application? And how do I prevent that from happening?
The application relies on the phone’s GPS system in order to determine the speed at which the phone is travelling. Your child could disable the GPS on their phone, thus rendering the application useless. Or they could delete the application and simply re-download it later. On Android, you can stop them from deleting the application and re-downloading it later by setting up a PIN. And on the iPhone, you can set a restriction on the App Store to serve a similar purpose.
- Android: Open the Google Play Store > Settings > “Set or Change PIN” > Simple enter the PIN and you’re done.
- iPhone: Settings > General > Restrictions > Enable Restrictions (or type in your pass code) > Set “Installing Apps” to the “off” position.
Unfortunately at this time there is no solution to preventing your teen from turning off the GPS function on their Android smartphone. There is, of course, you, and I highly suggest you talk to your teen about the importance of having this app, or any other app like it, on their phone.
At the end of the day this application is a great tool that can be used to help reinforce safe cell phone use while driving, but it isn’t the silver bullet that will stop your child from texting/talking while driving. Like with cyberbullying, sexting and online safety, we need to take a two-layered approach that combines constant communication about these issues with implementation of the tools that are available.
If an app doesn’t do it for you, you may want to consider looking into the options available from your wireless provider. Those options include:
DriveSmart - free (Basic version), $4.99 a month (Plus version):
- DriveSmart Basic is free and limits calls, texts and application use if the phone is in a moving vehicle. The Basic version doesn’t automatically detect driving movement, requiring the application to be manually activated by the user before they start driving. If you want automatic driving detection and parental controls you’ll have to upgrade to DriveSmart Plus for 4.99 a month.
Drive First ($2.00 a month after 15 day free trial):
- Drive First automatically detects when a phone is in a moving vehicle travelling more than 10 mph and locks the phone to prevent access to calls, text messages, and applications. Incoming calls are sent straight to voicemail and texts can be auto-replied to with a customizable message from the phone’s owner. The application will also alert parents if their children disable the application. Something T-Mobile and AT&T’s applications don’t do.
- The DriveMode application has to be manually activated since there is no automatic detection feature. When the application is activated, it will limit texting, emails and phone calls. You can also set up the application so that you can send and receive calls from up to five people and access one “music” and “navigation” application.
Verizon does not currently have a safe driving application