Ban texting while driving? There's an app for that - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Ban texting while driving? There's an app for that

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Posted: Sunday, September 25, 2011 9:00 am | Updated: 10:41 am, Wed Jun 6, 2012.

A free application that helps to curb the urge to text while driving is available for AT&T customers as part of the company’s “Texting Can Wait” campaign.

“AT&T is trying to stigmatize texting while driving,” said Scott Huscher, a spokesman for AT&T.

The DriveMode application stops the sound of incoming calls while the app is turned on. It also sends automatic messages in response to calls, text messages and emails. While the app is active, text and emails can’t be read or even composed.

However, the application always allows for emergency calls to 911. Additionally, the app has the option to allow incoming calls from up to five programmable phone numbers.

“We’re really stressing safety while driving,” Geoff Padilla, AT&T director of sales of Arizona and New Mexico. “It can definitely wait.”

Currently, the app is only available for Blackberry devices, but AT&T plans on releasing it on other phone platforms within the upcoming months, said Huscher.

The focus of the campaign is targeted at young drivers, and the question becomes whether teens will be able to access it and use it: Blackberries have long been known as a phone used by businessmen and -women, but that’s changing.

“iPhone and Android are probably our top sellers for youth,” said Geoff Padilla, AT&T director of sales of Arizona and New Mexico. “Blackberry sales tend to be smaller, but they are definitely part of the mix.”

Smartphones have become even more popular with teens as social networking and music have become integrated components, Padilla said. But smartphones are not just a draw for teens, but also parents with young drivers.

“A lot of parents are asking for smartphones, especially ones concerned about safety,” Padilla said. The devices can map where kids are and navigation apps can help them avoid getting lost.

Over the last few years a few other apps have popped up that are similar to DriveMode. Where they differ is control.

DriveMode has to be engaged by the driver, and it’s not going to stop a driver from texting unless they choose to start the app. Other applications, like CellSafety, use GPS to track how fast a phone is moving (assuming that a phone wouldn’t be moving at fast speeds unless it was in a car), but that can be a drain on the phone’s battery. Other applications connect through Bluetooth technology and disable the phone’s incoming and outgoing messages, calls and emails. However, these often come with monthly fees.

DriveMode is part of a higher goal by the company to bring awareness to texting and driving, something that other mobile providers are also trying to promote.

Verizon also launched their own “Don’t Text and Drive” ad campaign.

“Verizon has a long standing (policy) of, ‘Hey, when you’re behind the wheel, driving is your first priority,’ ” said Jenny Weaver, a Verizon spokesperson. The stores all sell a large number of hands-free devices as part of that commitment, she said.

Weaver said Verizon has always supported all federal and state laws that restrict texting and driving.

In the past few years, there has been a lot of legislative attention on passing texting-while-driving laws. California passed a law in 2008 and Arizona tried, most recently earlier this year.

“The sole motivation of the bill is to save lives,” said state Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, the primary sponsor, during a Senate vote in March. “Some people don’t make good decisions; that’s why there are speed limits.”

Even Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, who also supported the bill, admitted that it wasn’t something police officers knew whether they could enforce.

“It sends a strong reminder to the people of Arizona,” Gallardo said during the same vote. “At the end of the day, if it makes our streets safer ...”

The bill passed in the state Senate, but effectively died in the House. At this time, Melvin isn’t sure he will try to reintroduce in 2012.

While the DriveMode app may not be the end to texting while driving, it does create a starting place for parents and young drivers to have an open discussion about responsible driving habits.

The “Texting Can Wait” campaign is part of AT&T’s commitment to bring awareness to young people about the dangers of using cell phones while driving. The website also provides additional information for young drivers and their parents, including a pledge, safety tips and a 10-minute video showing the consequences of texting and driving for teens.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-5645 or sspring@evtrib.com

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