App disables phone while driving to prevent texting

SAFECELL designed to alert parents, employees, drivers about violations

By Allison McGinley - News Director

HOUSTON - A new smart phone app has been created to curb dangerous use of the ubiquitous devices in cars.

A Houston-based group developed SAFECELL to make the streets safer for everyone.

"I was just as guilty as anyone else, until we invented the application," said Scott Taylor, chief information officer of the SAFECELL app.

Taylor's group said the app is a way for a parent or employer to track how their children or employees use their cell phones behind the wheel.

The app works by sensing when the user's phone goes five miles an hour or more. Using GPS data and other technology, the app tracks if the driver texts, checks email, makes a call, logs into Facebook, or does anything else on their phone while the car is moving. Next, an alert is sent to parents or employers, informing them what time the drivers used their phones, how fast they were going, and on what road they were traveling.

The options allow an employer to know if their truck driver checked his email while traveling 70 miles per hour on a freeway. Parents could even use the app to find out if their child texted while driving inside a school zone.

"It plots the exact point on the maps where the violation occurred," Taylor said. "When parents look at the amount of data, it's eye opening."

But it's what else this app does that may change the way smart phones work. Not only can the SAFECELL app track all forms of distracted driving, the app can also prevent it from happening by disabling all cell phone distractions in a moving car.

"If I don't want the cell phone user to be able to text or email or access the Internet, it will not allow him to do that," Taylor said.

Once the app detects drivers are moving, it makes most parts of the smart phone appear to go away. Cell phone users won't be able to send a text, check email, access the internet, or do anything that distracts them while using their phone. And if someone texts them, they won't even see it on their phone.

"You won't get a ring," said Taylor. "You won't get a vibration. You won't get a phone call. You won't get anything."

All incoming text, calls, and e-mails go to a directory that only shows up when the car has stopped. Taylor says the app can be modified many different ways. For example, it can be set up where certain calls from a parent or employer can be made and received. Users can only turn off the app when an administrator is notified.

"The technology is there to prevent distracted driving," Taylor said. "It's up to parents and employers to implement it. That's what we're doing. We're providing mechanism to do that."

Taylor's group is planning an official launch of the SAFECELL app next month. He said he's already lined up support from AT&T. Details about the cost of the app are not yet available.

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