If there are two thing that Americans love, it’s hitting the open road in our cars, and texting people on our phone so we don’t have to actually talk to them.
These two things don’t mix. In the back of our minds, we know they don’t mix. But for some reason we just can’t stop texting and driving. Taking your eyes off the road for even a few seconds can be dangerous, and we’re busy texting our entire contact list while barrelling down the road in a few tons of glass and metal like it’s no big deal. And not only does safe driving save lives—it can also save lots on your car insurance.
Luckily, the same technology that’s distracting us can be used to help us focus on the road instead of our phones.
The dangers of texting and driving
You’ve probably seen those commercials where someone is driving, and everything is going fine, and then suddenly there’s a car crash accompanied by a jumpscare that wouldn’t be out of place in a Friday the 13th movie, followed by a somber reminder to not text and drive. "Funny" isn’t the right word for it, but it feels so dramatic and out of place that you can’t help but think of it as being over the top.
But texting and driving does have real consequences.
People who text (reading or sending) are up to 23% more likely to get into a car crash than other drivers. In 2013, the National Safety Council estimated that almost 350,000 automobile crashes involved someone texting. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reported that you’re six times more likely to get into a car crash if you’re texting than if you’re drunk. It’s become such a problem that 46 states have made texting and driving illegal.
(The states where it’s not illegal? Arizona, Missouri, Montana, and Texas. Be extra careful for on-the-go texters while you’re in those states!)
Of course, texting is only one part of a larger category of distracted driving. That could mean a lot of things, from using your phone to turning around because a kid is crying in the backseat to leaning over trying to find the shopping list you dropped. But as cellphones have become more ubiquitous and have had more and more features added to them, they become more and more of a distraction.
So what do we do? Head to the app store, of course! There are a number of apps that are trying to do what we can’t seem to do ourselves – make us better drivers.
Choose your app
So what apps are out there? More than you might think.
There are a few different methods to keeping you from distracted driving. Some completely block your phone, preventing you from communicating with the outside world. Others make it easier to use your phone – which seems counterintuitive, but easier, in this case, meaning more intuitive interfaces so you don’t have to focus as much on navigating your phone’s screen.
If you’re looking for a way to curb your texting, check out some of these apps.
Drive First comes straight from Sprint, and it’s cool that carriers are getting into the no-texting-while-driving game. Your phone automatically locks when you start driving, so no need to start or stop the app, and it automatically replies to texts. But sometimes you need access to things on your phone, right? Drive First lets you set 3 driving apps – like maps or music – so you can get what you need without being tempted to text. You can also set VIP contacts to bypass the block so important people like your husband or boss aren’t blocked every time you get into the car.
DriveMode is different than the other apps on this list because it doesn’t block features – in fact, it makes it easier to use your phone. It implements a "no-look interface" and basically replaces your phone’s interface of small buttons and layers of menus, with voice features and large, easy-to-use buttons. For example, when someone calls, instead of tiny answer or ignore buttons, almost the entire screen becomes an answer button so you can tap anywhere to take the call. It works with navigation apps, music apps, and messaging apps, so you can still use pretty much anything you’d use otherwise, but (theoretically) without needing to look at your phone as much.
You might have heard of Focus if you’re a fan of Note to Self. The episode that featured Focus was...um, focused on "wexting" – walking and texting – but it works just as well for driving. Like DriveMode, Focus doesn’t actually block anything. Instead, it works to train you to not use your phone while you’re driving. When you’re using it, Focus will tell you to pay attention to your driving. And honestly, while it starts off with gentle reminders, it can get kind of aggressive. If you’re not someone who handles confrontation well, you’ll probably learn quickly. You get report cards emailed to you so you can see how you (or someone else, like your kids) did. If you’re looking to form habits instead of just have your phone locked down, consider Focus.
If you want something that’s a little less intense, consider Drive Mode. (Not to be confused with the above DriveMode. I know.) It doesn’t block anything, but it does prevent your lockscreen from enabling, so no more typing in PINs or swiping patterns, and it automatically switches calls to your speakerphone. It’s pretty simple, but those two changes remove a lot of the distractions you face from your phone.
TextNoMore is interesting because it gives you an incentive to not text and drive (besides, you know, not dying). When you’re about to drive, you start the app and put in your estimated driving time. It’ll shut down notifications – nothing revolutionary about that – but the service is partnered with various retailers to provide coupons if you don’t text. It also shows missing children notifications once the app shuts down, so you can feel like you’re doing good, too. The app itself is a little rough-looking, but it’s an intriguing idea and it’ll be interesting to see if others implement similar features.
Do you use an app to make you a less-distracted driver? Let us know what your favorites are!