Watching his 3 year-old daughter nearly get run over by a texting driver inspired a Seattle landscape contractor to jump into the phone application business.
Erik Wood, 43, was walking home from Queen Anne’s Coe Elementary with his daughter last fall when a woman in a black Volkswagen shot out of an alley while texting with both hands, passing within a few feet of the girl.
The driver drove on without ever seeing the pedestrians, but Wood was so shook up he started researching safety issues around texting drivers. Then he decided to create an application that could help.
“People live in this false reality that ‘I can get away with texting and driving,’ ” he said. “The problem is they don’t know what they’re missing, they don’t get the wake-up call until it’s a T-bone, violent crash.”
He and his wife tapped their children’s college fund, withdrawing more than the cost of a new truck, and spent seven months working with software developers to produce an application called Otter that was released on the Android phone platform April 5.
“I think we realized that we had survived our first nearly fatal text-and-drive encounter but with two little girls growing up, the statistics proved this wouldn’t be our last brush with this,” he said. “That’s what inspired us to do something about it.”
The Otter application interrupts text message notifications when the phone’s GPS radio detects the device is moving at least 10 miles per hour. It doesn’t block the messages outright, but sends an automatic reply to the sender, saying,”Otter says BTH (Break the Habit).”
Otter — which stands for one touch text response — also has parental controls so parents can activate it on their children’s phones.
Wood is joining a growing number of companies producing applications and other systems to block or prevent texting while driving. He said Otter has a cost advantage because it doesn’t carry recurring monthly fees like some competing applications. It’s a one-time $3.99 download from the Android Market.
Versions for the Windows and BlackBerry phone platforms should be done in three to six months. Wood would like to do an iPhone version but its new software apparently won’t provide access he needs to the phones’ notifications or SMS services.
It’s a moneymaking venture, but Wood said he had to give it a try no matter what.
“You know when you come to those forks in the road where you don’t have any other choice?” he said. “This was definitely one of those.”