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Hi-tech and low-tech solutions to distracted driving

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month across the United States. Safety advocates and law enforcement agencies here in California are marking the occasion in unique ways. Today, in fact, is one of three days in April that have been chosen for state-wide, increased enforcement of anti-distracted-driving laws.

Refraining from texting and other distractions while driving is ultimately a choice. But for those who work in or are simply inspired by Silicon Valley, there is also technology available to make that choice easier. A recent IT World article highlighted several smart phone apps that can help drivers avoid auto accidents by making it harder and/or less tempting to use our phones while driving.

An Android app called “Agent” has several features related to use of your phone in the car. According to the article, it can sense when you are driving and in response, it will change the behavior of the phone in a number of optional ways. This can include sending auto-reply messages alerting others that you are driving. It can also silence your phone or turn it into a hands-free device that responds to voice command.

Several Motorola phones offer specific services similar to the Agent app. And iPhone users (with models 4S or later) can use Siri to operate the phone hands-free and eyes-free.

There are also two effective “hacks” available on every cellphone: Turning off the phone and silencing the ringer/notification sounds. Not only are these available and easy-to-use features on every phone, they may also be the most effective way to prevent cellphone distractions that lead to car accidents.

California is one of just a dozen states to ban the use of handheld cellphones while driving. But numerous studies have shown that hands-free devices or modes do not significantly reduce distraction. Even though the driver is not engaged in manual or visual distraction, he experiences cognitive distraction when he should be focused on driving.

There are technological solutions to help mitigate distractions caused by technology. But at the end of the day, driving distraction-free is still a choice. This month, please make the pledge to drive distraction-free and ask your loved ones to do the same.

Source: IT World, “Apps that fight our distracted driving habits,” Kevin Purdy, April 16, 2014

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