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MessageLOUD is a new smartphone app that seeks to help curb distracted driving.

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario -- December 14, 2015 -- After decades of public education about the dangers of drunk driving, a new scourge has become the deadliest driving practice—distracted driving. Emailing, texting and talking while driving is easier than ever with the new smart phones. But trying to answer every message while driving is a sure way to end up in an accident.

So worrisome are the rates of distracted driving that the province of Alberta has just announced new regulations to crack down on the practice. Alberta’s Ministry of Transportation announced on Thursday that effective January 1, 2016, distracted driving convictions will include three demerit points and an on-the-spot fine of $287.

Will this be enough to discourage a practice many Canadians engage in? Many drivers seem to think a quick glance at a smartphone is fine, as long as you're quick. This is, of course, as people used to think about drunk driving--if you're careful, you'll be fine. But taking your eyes off the road is not okay, and Alberta police will be enforcing that fact.

The new Alberta law restricts drivers from using hand-held cell phones; texting or emailing (even when stopped at red lights); using electronic devices like laptops, video games, cameras, video entertainment displays and programming portable audio players. Even entering information on GPS units is off bounds. So to is the practice of “reading printed materials in the vehicle,” which should be obvious. The press release also notes that “writing, printing or sketching; and personal grooming (such as brushing and flossing teeth, putting on makeup, curling hair, clipping nails or shaving)” are activities that fall under the new law and will be prosecuted. So no more drawing while driving.

“Drivers engaged in any of the identified activities can be charged, even if their driving performance doesn’t appear to be affected,” says a background document from the ministry. Brian Mason, Alberta’s Minister of Transportation, said there were more than 87,000 convictions for distracted driving from September 2011 to March 2015 and “despite our best efforts, distracted driving remains a real danger, with convictions increasing year over year.”

Research indicates that driver distractions contribute to 20 to 30 per cent of all collisions and distracted drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a collision than attentive drivers. So this is a real problem. In Saskatchewan distracted driving has replaced drunk driving as the single biggest cause of traffic fatalities in some years recently.

Could technology help solve a problem technology has created? A new tech start-up has just announced a service that it hopes will help eliminate distracted driving. The company has developed an app, messageLOUD, that reads text messages and email out loud while you drive. That is, no more taking the eyes off the road to read text messages. When the driver gets in the car, tapping the messageLOUD icon sets it to “drive mode.” Incoming texts and email will automatically be read out loud as they arrive. Users can customize an auto-response for incoming texts. Drivers can also tailor which messages will be read out loud. The idea is a brilliant, simple solution that could save lives.

According to a press release from the company “texting while driving is now the leading cause of death” among US teens. The release also claims that at any given hour across America “approximately 660,000 drivers are using smart phones while driving.” Forty-five states have now made texting and emailing while driving illegal. MessageLOUD can be downloaded at the Google Play Store.

The US-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that driving a vehicle while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated. The NHSTA says the urge to text while driving stems from a 'Fear Of Missing Out' (FOMO).

“People continue to go to great lengths to read messages from colleagues or loved ones while driving, in turn breaking the law and contributing to an ever-escalating epidemic of fatalities,” according to the release.

"Distracted driving kills thousands, injures more than half a million people each year, and is responsible for billions of dollars in insurance claims. Our mission at messageLOUD is to eliminate accidents and deaths due to smartphone usage while driving," said Garin Toren, founder and CEO of messageLOUD. "We're working with local and federal governments, non-profits, corporations and mobile phone carriers to orchestrate a tangible effort to deliver safer messaging while driving."

The company has some way to go to make distracted driving as socially unacceptable as drunk driving has become. Statistics suggest distracted driving is an extremely common behaviour. According to a distracted driving study conducted this year by Dr. Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, 70 percent percent of drivers admit they use their smartphones while they are driving. According to the study, 61 percent of people admit to texting and 33 percent read and send emails while they are behind the wheel.

The government of Alberta notes that since September 1, 2011, when distracted driving legislation was introduced in the province, through March 31, 2015, there have been 87,633 convictions. The trend has been an increased number of convictions, with more than 27,000 between April 2014 and March 31, 2015. Ninety-seven percent of these convictions were for using a hand-held electronic device while driving. The ministry also reported that during 2014-15, male drivers accounted for two-thirds of all convictions, with young male drivers (aged 22 to 34) having the highest conviction rates.


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