Distracted driving caused by using a cell phone is the leading cause of death among teenage drivers in the United States, claiming an average of 4,000 lives a year. In 2008, nearly 6,000 people died in the United States - and more than half a million people were injured - in crashes involving a distracted driver.
While 30 states have banned texting while driving, studies show a ban is not stopping text-obsessed drivers.
But now, new technology is aimed at counteracting this, and other, disturbing driving trends.
Phone application designed to save lives
Software developer Wayne Irving was alarmed by the number of deaths and injuries being caused by drivers who were talking or texting behind the wheel. Especially since his own text-obsessed daughter was learning to become a new driver.
Irving's concern prompted him to develop a mobile-phone application to help drivers resist the temptation of talking or texting behind the wheel.
His software, "SMS Replier," lets drivers program their Smartphones -- so when a call or text message comes in while they're driving, the phone sends an automatic message letting the sender know they are driving and cannot answer.
"It was specifically built for people who desire to be responsible, who are looking for a solution to help them not get a ticket, not get in an accident, not risk their life," he says.
10,000 signatures and still counting
Irving designed his application for Smartphones because he believes more and more people - especially young people - use cell phones as their primary means of communication.
Example of an auto-reply message using Iconosys Inc.'s SMS Replier™ Smartphone app.
"Everything is going to the smart phones," he says. "The smart phone is the new laptop. It's the new notebook computer. They're making them bigger, they're making them more feature-rich, they're stronger; they're more powerful than desktops were just three years ago."
To raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving, Irving hit the road himself. Setting out from his home in California in his 12-meter-long motor home, he traveled across the U.S. gathering more than 10,000 signatures in support of his cause.
He arrived in Washington in time for the U.S. Transportation Department's recent National Distracted Driving Summit, where other new safe driving devices were unveiled.
Built-in safety features
Irving's SMS Replier is one of a number of new applications designed to reduce highway fatalities.
Among the others is one the Ford Motor Company is putting into several of their car models to help young drivers develop better driving habits.
Using a special, computer-coded car key called MyKey, parents can limit the car's speed to no more than 130 kilometers per hour. Warning chimes can also be set to sound at 72, 89 and 105 kilometers per hour.
The key can also be programmed to limit the volume of the car radio and to release continuous alerts if the driver fails to wear a seat belt.
Brian Bennie, supervisor of MyKey development at Ford, says it was designed to give parents peace of mind.
"We know that teenagers drive distracted and they may not wear their seat belt all the time. This encourages good, safe driving behavior," he says.
The Tiwi in-vehicle monitoring device mentors teens with verbal alerts to help them develop better driving habits.
In-vehicle monitoring devices
However, parents don't have to buy a car with special built-in features to control their teens' driving habits. They can install a small device like the Tiwi in-car computer, which can be mounted on the car's windshield, to continuously monitor their kids' driving.
Tiwi uses GPS [Global Positioning System] technology to alert young drivers with a voice reminder when they're speeding, for example, and can detect when they're not wearing their seat belts.
The system is designed to give the driver several opportunities to correct their behavior. If the teen doesn't, Tiwi can notify parents immediately, either by phone, text message or e-mail.
While American companies continue to develop products to help young drivers stay safe, state and local governments are also doing their part to promote safer driving habits.
So far, 30 states and Washington, D.C. prohibit texting behind the wheel. And eight states have now passed laws prohibiting drivers from talking on handheld cell phones.