T-Mobile USA today announced that it’s offering a new application for preventing people from driving while texting, which dramatically increases the risk of accidents.
The app may draw parents concerned about their teens texting in the car. But it’s only available on one phone so far and the full version is pretty expensive – $4.99 per month for all lines on a family account. The phone also requires a data plan.
There are many similar apps already available for most smartphones. Some cost less and don’t have recurring charges, such as the Otter application developed by a Seattle parent that I wrote about last April.
Here’s another story that covers some of the apps available and challenges they face.
Google also offers sample code to help develop your own texting safety app for Android phones.
T-Mobile chose to resell an app developed by Location Labs, a well-financed San Francisco startup that counts Intel and Qualcomm among its backers and provides services to major wireless carriers.
“This one allowed deeper levels of integration into the phone itself,” T-Mobile spokesman Matt Wakefield said.
Location Labs’ “DriveSmart Plus” app blocks most texting and calling capabilities on a phone when it senses that the user is driving, using the phone’s GPS system, and sends incoming calls to voicemail.
The app doesn’t totally lock things down. Users can override the block. Parents can set up the phones so they receive a notification if the service is overriden.
T-Mobile has been preloading a barebones version of the app – “DriveSmart Basic” – on the LG Optimus T phone since Nov. 3. That version requires drivers to manually initiate driving mode and doesn’t include parental notifications.
The company said it will also be available on additional devices being launched soon.
T-Mobile ‘s announcement may help build awareness among parents of the risks of texting while driving – which increases collision risk 23 times, according to a 2009 Virginia Tech study – and the availability of applications to improve safety.
But there’s a better way for T-Mobile to stand out as the best option for parents with teen drivers.
Instead of asking parents to buy a particular phone and pay a hefty monthly charge, T-Mobile ought to build or buy its own version of the full application and make it a free or nearly free feature of its smartphones.