Is Technology Creating More Distracted Drivers?

by John McKiggan

The Fight to End Distracted Driving

I volunteer with a group that seeks to educate students and other drivers about the dangers of distracted driving.

So far EndDD volunteers have given educational presentations to more than 40,000 teens across North America.

Over the last few months I have had the pleasure of speaking with hundreds of students in Halifax schools about the issue.

By the way, if you are a teacher or a memeber of your child’s school PTG or SAC committee and you are interested in having us present to the students at your school, feel free to contact us for details.

Are Teens Better at Multi-Tasking?

Some of the questions and comments from the teens have been interesting and a little surprising.

One question I have been asked at almost every school is whether it matters if the driver is able to keep looking at the road while they text. It seems that students these days text so much they have the positions of the keys memorized so that they do not have to look at the keyborad on their phone to send a text.

The EndDD presentation is actually able to show teens how distracting is to try to concentrate on two different things at once.

This study focused specifically on driver’s performance while texting with their hands versus those using a voice operated system to text. This study showed that the use of a voice system was better than typing with your hands, but still not as good as when you were not sending a message at all.

Are Handsfree Headsets the Answer?

Another question that comes up again and again is the use of handsfree headsets to communicate with others while driving.

Most teens (and adults) I talk to think that as long as you keep your hands on the wheel, and use voice operated texting, it is okay. It’s not surprising given that it’s legal here in Nova Scotia to talk on a cell phone while you drive, as long as you use hands free technology.

Unfortunately, the EndDD presentation shows that using a hands free device doesn’t make the task any less distracting.

This is backed up by a new study from the University of Utah.

Same as Drunk Driving?

Participants were required to talk on a cell phone, both handheld and hands-free, and the data was compared with participants who registered a .08 blood alcohol level ( the legal limit for impaired driving). The study showed that the cognitive impairment of those on the cell phones, even those on hands-free, was roughly the same as those who were intoxicated.

When I ask teens if any of them would ever intentionally drive drunk they can’t believe I would ask such a stupid question. Many of them are shocked to learn that using a cell phone while driving impairs their skills just as if they were driving drunk.

Technology to the Rescue?

Technology can help. But not by making it easier to talk or text while driving. Rather by making it easier to NOT talk and text in the car.

In the USA, T-Mobile offers a service which automatically disables all alerts and send all calls to voicemail if a cell phone is in a moving vehicle. Targeted towards teens, the application will automatically send a message to parents if it is overridden while driving. On the T-Mobile website is states:

“…a special DriveSmart Plus lockscreen will come up while you are driving. This screen prevents you from making calls, sending texts, or using not allowed applications. Calls that you receive while driving will be sent to your voicemail, text messages will be sent directly to your inbox, and any other phone notifications will be delayed until you stop driving.”

There are also other apps available for those of us not on T-Mobile. FleetSafer is an app targeted towards businesses and is similar to the DriveSmart service. FleetSafer automatically disables the phone’s messaging functions, email services, and web browsing capabilities once the user is in a moving vehicle. The App will send auto-messages to incoming emails and test messages. It is currently available for Blackberry and Android smart phones.

Text-Star ( allows you to customize your auto-reply for text messages and emails. Text-star auto-engages once the user travels any speed above 10mph. The App claims they are pursuing relationships with insurance carriers so as to set up a discount rewards program on insurance premiums.


In the end, making our teens, and our roads, safer is all about raising awareness.

Technology can hurt, and technology can help. While the increased availability and usage of cell phones on the roads have certainly resulted in a tragic escalation in car accidents, there are creative solutions available.

If insurance companies work with cell-phone providers to incentivise users, there is a real possibility these applications could catch on. If you know of any other helpful applications please let me know by leaving a comment below.

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