Monday, May 13, 2013

Automation to stop texting and driving

I've been on a big kick to leverage automation in my life lately.  I've been using If This Then That as a way to trigger actions based upon events (primarily email I've received).  I wrote a script to download some reports every week, so I don't have to spend the time to do it.  I've spent the weekend working on a software project to monitor and respond to activity on a certain social network.  This post will go online on a schedule; I wrote it Sunday night. But more on these things later.

I also spend a lot of time on the road - not travelling, road warrior style, but commuting. However, my commute is pretty pleasant for two major reasons. First, it's not that long, just a little over 30 minutes and second, I ride a van pool.  While I do drive, I don't drive everyday, so I get a good break from the stress of the road.  However, when I'm a passenger, a day doesn't go by when I don't see someone talking or texting on their phone.  On average, there is a car crash once every 5 minutes due to a driver texting!

I've had the opportunity to use a Pantech Discover from AT&T, the first AT&T smartphone designed to help prevent texting while driving. It comes with the AT&T Drive Mode application, which automagically kicks in when the phone is moving faster than 25 mph.  When it is active, most apps are blocked, most callers are sent straight to voice mail and text messagers get an auto-reply message with out any notifications.  You can white list a few phone numbers (so that your spouse can call you) and you can allow a music and a navigation application.  Any other applications are met with a screen indicating that Drive Mode is active.

In my case, I'm a passenger a lot, so I've discovered that it is pretty easy to turn it off - simply hitting two on screen buttons.  But if you're driving, it makes you think that much more "Is it really that important to check my phone right now?"

When I'm driving, my phone sits in a cup holder and now, it just sits there silently. No temptations to answer it, no temptation to increase my risk of car crash 23 times!  The phone just does its thing automatically, one less thing to think about.  That is what I really love about automation - things just get taken care of.

As with any technology, there are a few watch outs.  My wife is more likely to text me than to call, which can be problematic if she wants me to pick up something to make for dinner on the way home from work - I won't know to check the message until I'm at home, already having driven past the grocery store.  She's on my white list, so I know that if the phone rings while I'm driving, its someone worth pulling over for.

Unless you manage that white list well, you are allowing the phone to make the decision for you, rather than see who is calling and decide if you're going to stop to take the call. I do like setting contact photos so I can quickly see who is calling and make a decision if I'm going to answer or not.  They can listen to my radio while I put in my headset and turn on blue tooth.

I have fairly good self-control, unless small pieces of chocolate, easy to pop in your mouth are involved, so its easy for me to just let the phone ring or beep that someone texted me.  I've got some personalized ring tones which make me grin, so its alright to listen to them.  But if you're someone with less self-control or a new teen driver, this automation is just one more decision point - is it worth it to answer the phone.  Its far better to have your phone remind you that it can wait, rather than the State Patrol telling you.

Over half the states have laws restricting or prohibiting the use of mobile phones and in some of them, its a primary offense that you can be pulled over for.  So even if you think you're a good enough driver and your reaction times aren't impaired (sounds a lot like a drunk driver argument, doesn't it?), you're still at risk.

Automation is meant to make your life simpler, so that things are taken care of and that you can be present in the moment.  And when you're behind the wheel, that is where your focus needs to be.
Ralley Team 2007
One of my Ralley Crew is now a driver himself!

I've been overall impressed by the Pantech Discover.  At only $49.99 in all AT&T channels, it's a great bargain. Its running Android 4.0 (which is a big step from Froyo on my old phone) and has a large, crisp 4.8" screen.  With the recent addition of LTE coverage in my area, I actually didn't realize that I wasn't on wifi at home for the first few days - its that fast.  Its processor is quick, so you can take care of everything you need to do and not try to squeeze it in while driving.  With the 12 Mega pixel camera and a battery that lasts me well into the evening, you'll be seeing more pictures of my dinners rather than just breakfasts!

Disclaimer: I received a phone as compensation for this post, but the opinions are mine.  Some of the factoids were provided by AT&T, so I had to do a little less research. But come on, we all know that driving distracted is dumb and  It Can Wait!

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