Safe driving? There’s an app for that

Linda Melone

Statistics show that using your phone while behind the wheel makes driving more dangerous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 3,000 people died in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2010.

Some smartphone apps actually can make driving safer. Apps that send messages automatically to voicemail while you’re driving and others that allow phone calls only from certain contacts to come through may help you keep your eyes on the road.

“It’s too soon to tell if they’ll be effective enough to bring down your auto insurance premiums, however,” says Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute.

Whether these apps will affect insurance rates would depend on whether a link between reduced auto accidents and the apps can be established. “This usually takes a few years,” Worters says.

In general, auto insurance companies don’t want people using their hand-held devices for anything while they are driving, says Rose Marshburn, a personal lines specialist with SIA Group, an insurance agency in North Carolina.

“If insurers start giving credits and discounts for (consumers who use these apps), insurers may fear they’re giving the OK to use … devices while driving. For this reason, I doubt these apps will help bring down insurance rates,” Marshburn says.

While safe-driving apps may not bring down your insurance premiums, they may help you avoid an accident.

Here are some of the latest and soon-to-be-released apps.

Safely Go

This free app helps drivers of all ages stay focused on driving safely. The app works by locking the phone and allowing only three “VIP contacts” to get through to you. Everyone else receives automatic text replies informing them that you’re on the road driving safely. Safely Go also limits access to your apps while driving. You control the app by turning it on and off before and after you’re behind the wheel.

This app also may be used during non-driving times as a way for parents and teens to stay connected while minimizing distractions during meetings, class and family time.

Where to get it: http://www.safely.com/products/go/

Drive First

This Android phone app by Sprint detects a driving situation and locks the driver’s cellphone screen and redirects incoming calls to voicemail.

Like SafelyGo, Drive First allows the driver to give call access to three important contacts and continued use of certain apps, such as Internet radio.

It’s not free, but you can sign up for a 15-day free trial. It’s just $2 a month after that.

Where to get it: https://drivefirst.sprint.com/welcome.htm

CarSafe

Developed by a partnership between the University of Bologna and Microsoft Research Asia for Android phones, CarSafe is the first dual-camera app for smartphones.

The app picks up dangerous driving behaviors and conditions with a camera focused on the driver that tracks the driver’s head pose, eyes and blinking rate, which indicate drowsiness and distraction. If the app detects a risky scenario, it alerts the driver by displaying a coffee cup on the touchscreen along with an audible alert.

At the same time, a second camera tracks the road, detecting distance between cars and lane-changing conditions, and looking for risky scenarios. If it detects your car is too close to the car in front of you, a red sign flashes on the screen accompanied by an audible alarm.

Where to get it: The free app will be available by the end of 2012, according to Andrew Campbell, professor of computer science atDartmouthCollege, who developed the app.

DriveSafe.ly

DriveSafe.ly differs from the other apps in that you can set it to read your text and email messages out loud in real time. It then automatically responds with a text message to the sender, indicating that you’re unavailable.

The free app reads emails and text messages aloud, up to 25 words. It’s available on Android, iPhone and BlackBerry platforms. You can upgrade to DriveSafe.ly Pro if you want to hear as many as 500 words read out loud.

Where to get it: http://www.drivesafe.ly/

Textecution

Designed to keep parents from worrying about their teens’ texting and driving habits, Textecution completely disables texting while driving.

Parents download the $29.99 app (a one-time fee) on a teen’s phone. If the user removes Textecution, the parent is immediately notified via text and a free download is sent to the teen’s phone.

The app allows the phone to work normally until it senses that the phone and the user are going faster than 10 miles per hour. It then disables the phone’s texting function so text messages can’t be sent or received. The ability to text resumes once the user travels slower than 10 mph.

Where to get it: http://www.textecution.com/index.php

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