TextingDistracted driving can be a killer. Distracted drivers are responsible for an ever growing percentage of auto accidents, and all you have to do is look around while on the road to see them — putting on makeup, eating, using smart phones.

With the spread of cell phone usage, in particular, the problem of distracted driving will continue to escalate. Some are trying to fight back. Michael Noyes, a reporter for the Montana Watchdog, brings us news of a bill coming before the Montana legislature that would ban cell phones and texting while at the wheel:

Bill sponsor Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena, said 37 states currently ban texting. She said surveys show a larger percentage of people agree that texting and talking on cell phones should be banned.

‘The goal of this bill is public safety,’ Kaufmann told members of the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee. ‘Your constituents will like this bill.’ Supporters of the bill said a statewide approach is needed to create safer conditions for motorists.

Representatives from several organizations including the Montana Highway Patrol, Montana Tow Truck Association, the Montana Police Protective Association, and Verizon Wireless spoke in favor of Senate Bill 251. One person testified in opposition to the bill.

In Illinois, Secretary of State Jesse White initiated, and Governor Pat Quinn signed, House Bill 71 a little over a year ago. The bill made texting while driving illegal. Unfortunately, recent surveys indicate that up to 40% of the drivers on Illinois Tollways are unaware of the law. In response, the state has launched the “Drive Now, Text Later” campaign to make people aware of the legalities.

The campaign was announced in Chicago Tribune in a letter signed by Jesse White (Illinois Secretary of State), Gary Hannig (secretary, Illinois Department of Transportation), Kristi Lafleur (executive director, Illinois Tollway), Jonathon Monken (acting director, Illinois State Police), and Brad Roeber (regional president, AAA Chicago).

Among other things, the letter quotes some of the disturbing statistics that are compelling more states to take action:

In the first half of 2010, cell phone distractions, including texting, were the primary or secondary cause of more than 500 vehicle crashes across Illinois. In 2009, cell phone distractions were the primary or secondary cause of nearly 1,300 vehicle crashes [–] an increase of more than 9 percent over 2008.

Nationally, nearly 5,500 people died in 2009 in distracted driving-related crashes and nearly half a million people were injured. Distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities for both 2008 and 2009. This problem isn’t going away anytime soon.

Since gadgets seem to be the primary offender when it comes to distraction, it is only fitting that we are starting to see apps that address this rampant problem. T-Mobile has just debuted an app that acts as an add-on to parental controls that the company already offers. Nina Sparano of Denver’s KDVR gives us the details:

T-Mobile has teemed up with Location Labs to introduce Drive Smart Plus, a smartphone application aimed at making it easier to stop texting while driving. When your teen starts driving the app uses GPS technology to detect that the car is in motion.

With Drive Smart all incoming texts are silenced and calls are sent directly to voice mail.

Parents can enable the app from any browser once they have purchased it. Additionally, the driver does have the capability of overriding the app in order to make an emergency call. To prevent casual use of the override, the system automatically sends a text or email to the parents every time it is used. The app is available by subscription ($4.99 a month).

Image by larry zou@, used under its Creative Commons license.

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