Can Distracted Driving Mobile Apps Help?

Distracted driving: There’s an app for that

Distracted driving, defined as anything that takes a driver’s attention away from the road, is extremely dangerous, resulting in death and injury to thousands of people each year. While any activity that distracts the driver is dangerous, the rise in the use of cell phones and tablets, particularly for hands-on activities such as texting, has caused an exponential increase in the rate of accidents from distracted driving. When people talk about “distracted driving,” they usually mean something involving the use of electronic devices.

With more than 3,300 automobile accident deaths attributed to distracted driving in 2012, it is no surprise that app makers are hurrying to perfect programs that can help drivers keep their eyes on the road. The danger of distracted driving is very real, and currently 43 states as well as the District of Columbia have laws that prohibit texting while driving. Nonetheless, approximately 75 percent of teen drivers admit to texting while behind the wheel. Even with widespread awareness of the dangers of distracted driving, most drivers continue to violate safety rules and use their devices on the road.

Parents have been the driving force behind the demand for more apps and programs that will help them control teen distracted driving. However, many of these apps can be useful for adults who find it hard to avoid reading their incoming messages and responding, as well.

Mobile Apps Targeted at Distracted Driving

There are a number of apps available to help drivers put down the phones and stay safe on the road. Some of the most popular include:

    • Cellcontrol is one of several systems that allow someone else to limit cell phone use for a young person while the car is in motion. While not technically an app, this device has proven to be very popular among parents who want more control over how their teens behave behind the wheel. Ranging in price from $119 to $129, Cellcontrol devices can be plugged into the car’s computer or attached to the windshield to disable phone functions while the car is in motion. The device allows enabling of emergency calls or control over texting only.
    • Drive While hands-free cell phone use may also be distracting, there are apps such as Drive that allow users to respond to text messages and emails without touching the phone. The app reads the messages aloud and allows the user to respond without physically entering data on the device.
    • TeenSafer and SafeCell. These apps work with both smartphones and tablets and allow parents to screen cell phone use. The phone is either put in “safe mode” while driving, disallowing calls and texts, or sends parents an email when texting while driving has been detected.
    • TXtblocker. This app, which parents can install on a teen’s phone, limits when and where texts can be sent and received as well as allowing them to track the phone’s location. At a price of $7 per month, the app allows parents to have some peace of mind over where their teens are and how they are using their devices, especially when driving.


Some phone carriers also provide safety features for parents to monitor the behavior of teen drivers. For example, Sprint Drive First allows the phone to go into “drive mode,” similar to “airplane mode,” when the phone is in a moving car. While in drive mode, the user can program a response message that is automatically sent until the user can answer. AT&T’s Drive Mode and Verizon’s Safely Go also have similar features.

Apps Will Not Replace Self-Control

While the makers of apps to control distracted driving are trying to give parents some control over their teen’s activities as well as their own, nothing will replace common sense when it comes to avoiding a distracted-driving accident. Teens and adults should both be aware of the extreme dangers of using their devices while driving, and both groups should work together to avoid situations that could harm or kill someone.

Education may be one of the best tools in this regard, as well as consistent rule enforcement. When parents learn that teens have violated the “no texting” rule while driving, they must be willing to enforce consequences in order to drive home the severity of the situation. No app will ever be designed to replace parental control.