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Parent, teen app could help reduce distracted driving

May 22, 2018
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

You're driving. You hear that "ding" or buzz of a text message. Do you take your eyes off the road to check that screen?

In 2016, 218,096 accident occurred due to distracted driving, according to Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Of that, 3,500 were incapacitating to the victim; another 241 resulted in death.

Tech developer and San Carlos Island David Anderson is on a mission to lower those statistics. Working with partners Chad Sepulvado and Pete Sinibaldi out of Birmingham, Alabama, Anderson has helped develop a smartphone app, "Safe Drive Zone," which can help parents of teenagers ensure their young drivers aren't spending time on the screen when they should be watching the road.

Article Photos

Once in motion, the driver's side app is activated.

Safe Drive Zone is a two-part system. A parent can download the app to their phone, and have their driving-age children download the app, too. Once installed, the power is in the parent's hands.

The app, when in use, essentially creates a copycat interface of the driver's home screen - but only allowing access to specific, parent-approved apps.

"We are the home screen now," Anderson said.

The driving screen is engaged at a speed chosen by the parent - maybe, 10 miles per hour. Once a driver begins reaching that speed, they can no longer access their real screen. A parent might choose to allow certain apps - like a GPS or map app, music, or podcast app.

When driving, the phone will not display alerts, ring, or vibrate, except for a pre-approved parent list of phone numbers that can call that phone at any time. Otherwise, calls go directly to voicemail, and can send a message back to the caller to let them know the person they were trying to reach is driving.

In addition, the app allows the parent to know the exact location of their teenage driver while the app is engaged.

"It does a lot of other things than being a 'narc,'" Anderson said. "It's not babysitting, it's, I want to do something if something happened."

Breaking the habit of checking messages while driving is hard - that ding goes off, or that buzz vibrates, and it can be automatic to pick it up.

"I got in the habit of using my phone at the stoplight. Do I really need to do that?" Anderson said. "We're trained like Pavlov's dogs."

But with the app, parents can take control of that behavior. Anderson said texting and driving is now a primary offense in 35 states - meaning, in those states someone can be pulled over for it. There's technology in the hands of law enforcement that can detect if a phone was in use.

In Florida, texting and driving is a secondary offense, meaning a driver has to be doing something else too, like speeding, to be pulled over and ticketed for it. House Bill 33 was introduced to make it a ticket-able offense, but died in the Senate earlier in 2018.

Florida got nation-wide attention after 17 children were murdered in the Parkland shooting - but Anderson said, statistics show that 17 teenagers a day are killed by distracted driving.

"It's happening every day. Are you going to take phones away? No," he said.

Some phone operators, like Apple, have begun incorporating some anti texting-and-driving measures. Apple iPhones, for example, have a "do not disturb while driving" setting that can be set up to silence text messages, notifications and other noises. It can auto-reply to a text as well, and also has some customizable features, like allowing calls to come through if the driver has a Bluetooth-enabled vehicle.

The problem with the iPhone setting, however, is that it can be turned off by the phone user.

Safe Drive Zone can be used by the parent with an iPhone, but the driver has to have an Android. Both interfaces are compatible with Android, but Anderson said the app ran into a problem with Apple.

The tech giant doesn't allow independent apps to access the home screen of their phones.

"Apple made it clear, you can't over-write the default screen," Anderson said. "We could make it work... but half the world is Android, that's big enough for us right now."

Anderson has been working on the app's development since 2016. Now, it's ready for the smartphone


The app is $10 to download the parent side, and 99 cents for each driver. A parent can have unlimited drivers under their app.

The parent decides what speed threshold will activate Safe Drive Zone - it could be 10, 15 or 25 miles per hour. But, Anderson said they didn't make the app "completely heartless:" if their teen is in the passenger seat with someone else at the wheel, they can ask permission through the app to disable the Safe Drive Zone screen and the parent can approve or disapprove, as well as set a time limit.

"Texting while driving is just a small part of the problem. We approach it as distracted driving," Anderson said. "We can't stop someone from eating while they drive. But if you're using your phone, you're six times more likely to be in an accident."



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