Warnings, reminders to combat distracted drivers

In this photo made March 4, 2010, Leigh Gilly, vice president of business development for Cellcontrol, holds his Blackberry with the screen displaying his company's blocking device is operating, in New York. ((AP Photo/Richard Drew) )

March 29, 2010 1:46:11 PM PDT
Buzzers and bells often remind drivers to fasten seatbelts once the engine's started. Could an alert not to text be next?

Car manufacturers have come up with lights, bells and buzzers to remind drivers to fasten their seat belts as they start their engines. It would seem natural, then, to offer motorists friendly yet stern warnings about another bad habit: holding a cell phone while driving, whether for texting or talking.

Although several companies have sprung up to address that challenge, creating an effective, widespread solution looks a lot harder than putting in seat belt reminders. Groups are only just beginning to figure out what constitutes a dangerous distraction, and how best to curb it.

Some apps that help curb texting while driving

Some services that aim to curb distractions from phones used while driving:

  • Cellcontrol: This service from ObdEdge LLC uses a $60 device that plugs into the car's onboard diagnostics port, which is usually under the steering wheel. A separate application for the driver's phone costs $25 to download and $8.95 a month to use. The phone connects to the device in the port through wireless Bluetooth technology. When the device detects that the car is moving, it tells the phone to lock texting, calling or both, depending on the user's settings. Cellcontrol works with BlackBerrys and phones running Windows Mobile and Symbian software. Originally designed for companies to use in their fleet cars and trucks, it is now marketed to consumers as well.
  • iZup: This application from Illume Software uses a phone's GPS chip to determine if it's in motion, then locks predetermined phone functions such as texting and calling. The service can't tell if you're the driver or the passenger. To use the phone as a passenger, you must have a password and go to iZup's Web site to temporarily disable the service. The service works on BlackBerrys, Windows Mobile and Android phones. The cost is $4.95 per month or $49.95 per year.
  • DriveSafe.ly: The iSpeech Inc. application doesn't detect if you're driving. Instead, you tell it that you're driving by turning it on. The app will then will read incoming text messages aloud. If you forget to turn it off after getting out of the car, DriveSafe.ly could create some embarrassing moments. The service is available for BlackBerrys, iPhones, Android and Windows Mobile phones. A free version reads out only the first 25 words of each message. The "Pro" version costs $13.95 to buy, with no service fees.