Sunday Times

Taking app-tion to reduce the daily carnage on our roads


ROAD accidents take more than 30 lives in South Africa every day, whether it is a public holiday, a weekend, or an ordinary workday.

Yet road-safety awareness campaigns tend to focus only on holiday periods, such as the past Easter weekend, when 158 road fatalities were recorded in five days.

In other words, the usual number of deaths we see every day on our roads.

When she released the preliminar­y statistics for the Easter weekend, Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said: “People are now saying they have had enough of seeing dead bodies on the roads.”

The truth is, people have never got used to the gruesome toll, but the authoritie­s have never had the political will to embrace zero-tolerance laws that would curb accidents.

Technology can play a role. Already, we are seeing insurance companies reward customers who install a monitoring device in their cars. The better you drive, the lower the premium.

Now mobile apps are hitting the road. In particular, they focus on the causes of accidents, such as distracted or bad drivers.

New York-based South African Garin Toren founded messageLOU­D after learning that drivers who are distracted cause 25% of all car accidents and 3 500 fatalities each year in the US, not to mention injuring 1 153 people every day. The primary reason for the distractio­n? Texting and e-mailing while driving.

The messageLOU­D app reads the text of an e-mail message — and will soon include those from instant-messaging apps — out loud. It allows the driver to dismiss or delete the message, or call back the sender, through a gesture or by touching the screen, without looking away from the road.

“The best solution to this problem is no phone use at all,” says Toren. “If you, your friends and family can achieve this level of discipline, in addition to saluting you, we encourage you to encourage others to do the same. MessageLOU­D was designed for the majority of us who check our phones constantly, even while driving.”

Toren says messageLOU­D follows the conclusion­s of the American Automobile Associatio­n’s Foundation for Traffic Safety, that listening and touch are fine, but dialling, changing music, or sending text using voice commands are unsafe distractio­ns.

Will the app survive the trend by carmakers to build app functional­ity and their own voice controls into vehicles?

Yes, says Toren. “The futureproo­fing of the app lies with Apple Car Play and Android Auto. We predict that all manufactur­ers will eventually offer one or both. We plan to be in both those Play Stores within 18 months. We’ve also started talking to vehicle manufactur­ers with an eye to . . . [putting] the app directly into vehicle operating systems.”

Meanwhile, an Israeli company called i4drive has developed an app that monitors the road as well as analysing the driver’s actions, through a standard smartphone mounted on a car windscreen.

It warns drivers about unsafe following distances, wild lane changes, and that they are breaking the speed limit.

It almost trains the user to become a better driver.

The big question is whether our collective outrage at road deaths will translate into concrete personal steps, like using these apps to ensure that instead of just raging about the problem, we become part of the solution.

Goldstuck is the founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at

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