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Texting while driving? There's an app to stop that

AT&T and other mobile carriers are uniting to help prevent teens from texting while driving.

The country's biggest cell phone companies -- Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon -- are uniting with AT&T in their first joint advertising program to help prevent teens from texting while driving. The campaign is called, "It Can Wait."

Over 40 percent of teens say they’ve texted while driving. Karen Torres, a mom of two on Long Island, is terrified of how comfortable her kids are with technology.

“My oldest daughter will be getting her permit October first. I’m scared to death. I’m scared to death,” she says.

That’s because Karen’s daughter is a texter.

“One month last year, she had 19,411 text messages in a month,” Torres says.

AT&T and Sprint have created apps to stop teens from texting while driving. And AT&T says last year it spent tens of millions of dollars on its “It Can Wait" campaign. Even Allstate offers Bluetooth hardware to keep teens focused on the road. But the phones and apps that teens use are updated faster than you can compose a text.

Jeff Kagan, a tech industry analyst, says the ever changing world of tech has the creators of text-blocking software stuck playing a permanent game of catch-up.

“Think about it like the radar detector in your car, versus the speed gun that the police use -- the technologies continue to get better every year. The solution that will work today, won’t work tomorrow,” he says.

Some texting blocking apps, like AT&T’s Drive Mode are free. Others charge a monthly fee of a few dollars.

But Andrea Matwyshyn, a professor of legal studies and business ethics at Wharton, notes that distracted driving isn’t caused by texting alone.
 
“It is kids putting on their makeup and driving. It is kids reaching for their music collections while they’re driving,” she says.

Matwyshyn says kids need to learn judgment. “Whenever you have a tech-driven attempt to solve a developmental problem for kids, it will fail without a concerned education based interpersonal effort. Technology can’t solve the problems that kids experience as they’re growing up, to learn to be functioning human beings in our society. No app will ever be the killer solution for that.”

Karen Torres, the mom whose daughter is about to get her permit, knows the importance of education. A distracted driver hit and killed her father six years ago. Now Torres works with the Texting Awareness Foundation as a speaker at schools.
 
“What’s really scary is that when I ask the kids how many of their parents text and drive, probably about three-quarters of the classroom raise their hands,” she says.
 
Torres says should teens should use these apps. But she also says there’s another very simple piece of technology drivers should keep in mind -- the off button.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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