One of the keys to injury prevention is an emphasis upon the dangers of distracted driving. At any given moment, one out of 10 drivers is talking on a cell phone while operating a vehicle – a seemingly harmless act, but one that makes them four times as likely to crash. And nearly one out of every five injuries in car crashes can be attributed to a distracted driver, according to a 2010 federal government study.
As a result, innovators have developed several devices and mobile applications to help prevent distractions and promote safe driving. One of these emerged from Shepherd Center in 2009 when John Anschutz, director of the hospital’s Assistive Technology Center, and his colleagues developed the Electronic Driving Coach® to help drivers who might be distracted because of a brain injury.
Installed in the driver’s vehicle, the device issues verbal prompts and positive reinforcement messages that encourage safe and alert driving – messages that can be customized to address the driver’s specific needs. The system differs from those that alert drivers when they drift off the road or activate the brakes when they are following too closely. The Electronic Driving Coach (ElectronicDrivingCoach.org) is not a reactive system; rather, it’s designed to maintain a driver’s attention before the point of distraction.
Some who have used the device describe it as “like having someone sitting beside me,” and it has enabled a number of Shepherd Center patients with a brain injury to return to independent driving.
Drive Scribe® (Drivescribe.com) is another system aimed at preventing distracted driving. A free smart-phone application, it leverages the phone’s GPS system, mapping data and accelerometer to monitor speed, traffic regulation compliance and sudden movements, such as slamming on the brakes or swerving. Drivers place the smart phone in the car and listen to audio notifications of upcoming stop signs and speed-limit excesses. Aimed at teen drivers, DriveScribe also blocks texts, emails and incoming phone calls. Parents can even elect to receive texts and emails generated from the application to let them know of their teen’s progress.
A variety of other apps and devices are available to assist people with a brain injury and others who need help to drive safely:
Limiting temptation: Several products have the ability to block a driver’s access to texts, phone calls and emails. TeenSafer (TeenSafer.com) is an application for mobile phones that detects when a user is driving, then automatically locks the phone screen and keypad, suppressing texts and inbound calls. The cost is $2.99 per month or $25 a year. Similarly, Key2SafeDriving (Key2SafeDriving.net) is a device installed in the car that restricts phone use when the car is operating by re-routing calls directly to voicemail and issuing automated replies to incoming texts. WiseDrive (downloadable for $.99) automatically detects drivers moving at high speeds, disables audio text messaging notifications and sends out an automated reply.
Maneuvering in heavy traffic: Want to avoid traffic jams? Inrix® Traffic (www.InrixTraffic.com) provides a map of real traffic and incident reports. The app is free, but an upgrade allows drivers to save routes, receive personalized directions, access traffic cameras and more for $25. Waze (Waze.com) is a free app that enables drivers to build and use live maps and get real-time traffic updates and turn-by-turn navigation.
Tracking speed: Teen drivers and their parents can watch their speed with My Max Speed, a smart-phone app that logs speed and location every five seconds and downloads all data into a spreadsheet. Safe Driver monitors the location and driving practices – such as a car’s top speed, excessive acceleration, braking and turning – of drivers and alerts others via email or text whenever the driver exceeds a specific speed. (It even shows where the infractions occurred.) The basic app is free, and an upgraded version costs $4.99.
Covering the basics: Some apps impart the lessons of basic driving in an interactive way. Dangers of Distracted Driving is a free app that discusses the consequences of distracted driving, introduces the concepts of feet-per-second and following too closely and provides visual scenarios to illustrate the concepts discussed. State Farm Insurance offers Steer Clear Mobile®, a free app consisting of five modules: self-assessment, driving logs, safe driving pledge, video testimonials in which teens describe accidents they were in and the mistakes that caused them, and then a final self-assessment. When completed, drivers are eligible for a State Farm safe driving discount.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.