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

Sunday Times - - THE BACK PAGE -

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 Gad­get.co.za. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @art2gee, and sub­scribe to his YouTube chan­nel at http://bit.ly/GGad­gets

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