Central Florida company takes on texting while driving with smartphone app

App tackles problem of keeping workers safe on the road

By Donovan Myrie - Investigative/Special Projects Producer

MOUNT DORA, Fla. - One in four: That’s the latest estimate from the National Safety Council of just how many crashes are caused by someone texting while driving.

The National Highway Transportation and Safety Association says texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident then driving drunk. The grim reality of texting behind the wheel: 1.6 million crashes each year in the U.S. and more than 300,000 injuries.

“You know, at the end of the day, driving is not a right, it’s an absolute privilege,” said News 6 traffic safety expert Steve Montiero. “We’re not just born with this right to drive a car. You have to earn it and you’ve got to respect it.”

Central Florida might be ground zero to help foster safer roads and it all may start in Mount Dora.

Engineers at a small software company called United Efficiency are on the frontline of stopping distracted driving.

“The new normal is that you’re on the phone all the time, you’re available all the time,” said Stan Van Meter, founder and CEO of United Efficiency. “People who come into the work force believe that texting and driving is actually OK because they do it all of the time. However for a business, it’s a huge liability.”

Nine years ago, UE developed a mobile application that eventually became AT&T’s DriveMode, one of the most popular smartphone apps to combat distracted driving. The company's latest project focuses on commercial vehicles instead of just individual drivers. 

“One single solution doesn’t cut it anymore to end this problem,” Van Meter said. “There’s not a silver bullet. So what we need is training, management, reminders and some intervention.”

That training, management, reminder and intervention all comes wrapped into one in FleetMode, a combination of hardware, a mobile application, and a management portal designed to reduce distractions both in the field and in the office. 

“Just one accident on average can cost your company $30,000-$40,000 between damages to your company vehicle, damages to someone else’s vehicle, lost work time, worker’s compensation and legal claims,” Van Meter said.

FleetMode sends incoming calls directly to voicemail and an auto-reply to all incoming texts. If a driver tries to use a phone when the system is on, an alert is sent to the fleet manager. After a FleetMode violation, the driver is sent a training module that must be completed as a safety reminder.

An added benefit United Efficiency didn’t expect is that instead of animosity from always-on monitoring, there is an appreciation for a break from constantly being connected. Since managers know exactly where field personnel are throughout the day, that type of passive monitoring cuts down on the phone calls, the texts and the distractions.

“A lot of the guys who are using the product say, 'Thanks, my company cares about me and they want me to come home safe every night,'” Van Meter said. 

Each DriveMode SmartDot costs about $50, with monitoring priced at $7.99 per vehicle per month. That may sound like a lot, but United Efficiency said one company that installed FleetMode saw a 31 percent reduction in accidents in their first year of use. 

If FleetMode is overkill for your company or you just want to help protect your family, try out a number of other different distracted driving apps. We came up with a list below.

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