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Darcy Ahl, a Massachusetts mom, has developed a new software application for cell phones that will not allow for texting or phone calls while driving. The app starts working when a cell phone is in a car that is moving at more than 5 miles per hour, and doesn’t disable at red lights or in slow traffic. The application will still permit calls to 911 and, when set up for teen drivers, to mom and dad.
Although Ms. Ahl developed the app in response to concerns about her teenage son’s unsafe driving while trying to answer an incoming telephone call, the application comes at a time when the media is paying increased attention to the dangers of “DWT” or “driving while texting” for everyone, not just teen drivers. In July 2009, Tennessee joined numerous other states by enacting laws that make it a misdemeanor offense to text while driving. Accordingly, Ms. Ahl has been marketing her software not just as a safety device for parents to impose on their children, but as a device that cities or companies can use if they want their employees to have company cell phones but not use them while driving.
The software lockdown is a technologically resourceful solution to the admittedly high dangers of distracted driving, which one Tennessee commentator poetically describes as the equivalent of “driving a deadly weapon” or driving a “4000-pound missile.” Despite the danger, police have issued very few citations for texting while driving, largely because it is a difficult law to enforce; many laws make only texting illegal, so it is difficult for officers to determine whether someone was texting, or rather searching their phonebook to make a call or checking the Internet, which are oftentimes not covered by distracted driving laws.
Although some optimistic individuals believe that the low number of citations means that the law is having the desired deterrent effect and fewer people are breaking the law, I seriously doubt the law has had such a significant and immediate impact–one need not look too far for examples of the cavalier attitude society holds toward laws that limit cell phone use while driving. Perhaps a device that eliminates the temptation to text and drive by taking the choice out of our hands is a better mechanism to eliminate danger.
– Rachel Purcell
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