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Safe Driving Solutions for the BlackBerry
By Jeff Goldman
On Thursday, April 15th, 2010, Kentucky became the 23rd U.S. state to ban texting while driving. It's a significant safety issue, and it's gaining more and more attention -- according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driver distraction was involved in 16 percent of all fatal crashes in 2008, resulting in the deaths of nearly 6,000 people.

In response, new safe driving applications are now being released for the BlackBerry on a regular basis. Recently introduced apps include DriveCarefully and Auto TextBak, adding to a range of established solutions including, ZoomSafer, DriveAssist, iZUP, PhonEnforcer and others, as well as hardware-based solutions like Key2SafeDriving and iLANE.

Wireless industry analyst Andrew Seybold has been using iLANE for the past year -- the device converts incoming text messages and emails to voice, and enables the user to respond verbally to emails by simply attaching a WAV file of the recording. "It works well, and for people like me who are absolutely addicted to our BlackBerry, it's a good choice," he says.

Prior to being provided with an iLANE device by the manufacturer, Seybold freely admits that he was guilty of using his BlackBerry on the road. "I was texting and responding all the time to email and text messages... at 70 miles an hour down a freeway, it's not a smart thing to do," he says.

Really, just about any solution should help -- among the wide range of products currently available for BlackBerry users, Seybold says, it can be hard to find differentiating factors. Most solutions disable the device's keyboard once activated by the user (or automatically in response to vehicle movement), and either block all texting and calling, or enable limited voice-activated functionality.

And while a company-wide deployment of a solution like this might meet some resistance from employees, Seybold says it really isn't all that different from the introduction of GPS tracking solutions.
"When GPS was first announced, everybody said, 'Oh, Big Brother's going to be able to watch me' -- and now you don't hear anything about it," Seybold says. "It's just become accepted that if you're working for a company, the company has the right to know where you are during working hours, and if they want to track you with GPS in your cell phone or your car or whatever, they're going to do that. This is the same thing."

One company that has already implemented a solution for its employees is B&G Equipment and Supply, a renter and seller of construction equipment. "Our salespeople and our managers have all had BlackBerrys ever since they came out," says Eric Hudson, B&G's director of planning and administration, who manages a companywide deployment of 50 BlackBerry smarpthones.

As the person responsible for safety at the company, Hudson says, it was already very clear to him that driving with a smartphone posed a significant risk. "You didn't have to ride along in the car too long with somebody to realize that every time that LED is flashing or they get some sort of notification, they're reaching for that BlackBerry," he says.

Hudson says a video telling the story of Reggie Shaw, who killed two people in Utah in an accident caused by texting while driving, also persuaded him of the importance of taking action on the issue. "[Shaw] is a young guy, a good guy, who just made a bad mistake on the way to work one morning," he says. "It's a very powerful video."

B&G's first attempt to improve driver safety, Hudson says, involved the development of a company policy regarding cell phone usage. "Although it had teeth in it, it really did not stop the behavior," he says -- and so he started looking for an application, and quickly settled on ZoomSafer. "The product was affordable, and it did exactly what we wanted it to do," he says.

Zoomsafer's functionality, Hudson says, is very straightforward. "Once the vehicle starts moving at 15 miles an hour, ZoomSafer is able to sense that movement, and it essentially turns the keyboard and the notifications of emails or text off -- you don't get them," he says. "You don't know that there's an email or text coming in, and if you were to somehow know it, you can't access them, because your keyboard is locked."

Incoming calls, Hudson says, can only be answered via Bluetooth, a wired headset, or the device's speakerphone, while outgoing calls are only enabled via voice dialing.

Ultimately, Hudson says, it's about removing the temptation to check your BlackBerry. "I found, for myself, if there was no notification and the light wasn't blinking, plus I knew it was locked anyway, I didn't even think about looking at the phone," he says. "And when I get to my destination, I'm able to check my messages."

And despite the cost of deploying the software on each device, Hudson says everyone at B&G understood the need to implement a solution like this. "Everyone got it," he says. "We had zero pushback."
The video described by B&G's Eric Hudson is below:

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