Renée Martin

THE TEXTAID: A SOLUTION TO AMERICA’s”TEXTING WHILE DRIVING” EPIDEMIC 

Sending one, simple text message while driving could drastically change someone’s life forever, or even bring someone’s life to an end. However, there are some drivers who have the mindset that getting into an automobile accident as a result of just sending a quick text message could never happen to them—that they’re safe drivers. Unfortunately, after actually experiencing an accident firsthand, some of these people don’t get the chance to explain to others that it really can happen to anyone; after all, it’s an accident. According to a document containing numerous texting-while-driving statistics compiled by Hofstra University in 2002, the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis found that approximately 2,600 people die every year as a result of texting while driving, and an additional 330,000 are injured. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued more recent data, stating that every day more than nine people are killed in the United States as a result of texting while driving, and more than 1,060 are injured, which is a dramatic increase from 2002 data. Also, according to the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), cell phone use was reported in approximately 18% of fatalities in America that were classified as being “distraction-related.” The DOT also stated that sending one text message could take your eyes off of the road for about 4.6 seconds. Driving at 55MPH, that would be like driving the entire length of a football field while blindfolded. Yet, despite these warnings and statistics, there are Americans who continue to text while driving because they cannot successfully resist the urge to text, and as a result, they can potentially cause harm to other drivers or even themselves while doing it. That is why instead of trying to eradicate texting while driving altogether, a safer solution for texting while driving must be found; the TextAid is that solution. Using bluetooth technology and an earpiece about the size of a hearing aid, one would be able to automatically listen to any text message that they receive while driving, and respond to it by simply talking to it when prompted. This way, they will not have to take their eyes off of the road for any reason.

The implementation of a portable, voice-activated device that can send a text message for the individual using it, such as the TextAid, is not only feasible, but it is profoundly important to society at large as it can save countless lives every year and give drivers a new opportunity to drive with less distractions and keep their eyes on the road.

Today, to address the issue of texting while driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is considering adding guidelines to “address portable devices not built into the vehicle, including aftermarket GPS navigation systems, smart phones, electronic tablets and pads, and other mobile communication devices.” They’re also considering addressing the implementation of voice activated controls to minimize distractions as well as advanced-warning and driver monitoring technologies to help prevent crashes that are caused by distracted drivers. This so-called “texting and driving epidemic” has even attracted the attention of celebrities. Celebrities such as Oprah have also advocated to their fans the necessity of pledging to never text and drive.

Currently, there are regulations against cell phone use while driving in every state with the exception of Hawaii. According to a CDC Motor Vehicle Safety article, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that prohibits all federal employees from texting while driving on government business as well as from texting when using equipment or vehicles that belong to the federal government. Some states including California, Illinois, and Maine, to name a few, have laws that restrict novice drivers from using cell phones while driving, regardless if they have hands-free devices or not.

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However, according to Fig. 2, the majority of people who send text messages or emails while driving are within twenty-one to twenty-four years of age; drivers at this stage of their lives would not be considered to be novice drivers, so the ban would not even apply to them in these states. For example, at the age of eighteen, in New York State, drivers are eligible to drive under an unrestricted license as they are classified as a Class D driver; some are even eligible to attain a Class D license at the age of seventeen if they enroll in a driver’s education course.

Fig.1and Fig. 2 both provide strong evidence that, regardless of some state bans on the use of cellphones while driving, this ban is not having a significant impact—particularly on younger generations. Legislation hasn’t been as effective as originally intended, and the numbers are clear. The amount of deaths and injuries related to cell phone use has only increased over time, and will continue to increase if there isn’t a safer method of texting and driving implemented for drivers. With the TextAid, drivers will be able to safely text and drive without having to take their eyes off of the road, and its ingenious technology will save the lives of thousands of Americans.

In order for the TextAid to be considered a well designed object, it must fit certain criteria. It must obviously be easy to use and function as a texting device, but it must also have sophisticated voice recognition technology, be compatible with all bluetooth phones, and it must be reasonably priced for the consumer. The physical design of the TextAid will focus on simplicity. Hearing-aid-sized, it will fit in a user’s ear rather than around their ear like existing bulky bluetooth devices. As previously stated, the TextAid would rely on bluetooth technology, meaning that it will be completely wireless. A small button on the exterior turns the device on and off, with a small USB port to charge it. USB charging means compatibility with existing cell phone car-chargers. Black in color, the TextAid looks sleek and minimalist, and therefore will appeal to modern tastes. Also, a small, sensitive microphone will be contained within the earpiece to detect instructions from the user. While turned on, the cell phone will automatically relay any text messages directly to the TextAid so that the person can hear the messages rather than read them. It will also state who the message is from. Then the individual would be asked by the TextAid if he/she would like to reply to the message or not, and a simple answer of yes or no would be required. If no, the TextAid will not prompt the user with any more questions and it will standby and wait for any other text messages to be received. The TextAid can also send text messages from the user if the user says, “TextAid, send a text message.” Such a phrase would be used in order to prevent the TextAid from being activated by normal conversation between people in the car. The TextAid will then ask to whom the message is to be sent, and the user can either respond with the name of a person or a phone number. Once verified, the user just needs to simply say the message clearly, and the TextAid will communicate this information to the phone. The TextAid will then read the message over again to you to ensure that it has heard you correctly. If it is correct, then it will send the message. If not, then you can edit it by saying the message over again. Not only could this technology be used to send a text message, but email as well. The TextAid has the potential to change the lives of drivers as texting will now not only become more efficient, it will also become safer. The TextAid would be a viable option that would satisfy what the NHTSA has been considering addressing; it would minimize distractions of the driver as it would act as a hands-free device that is activated by voice recognition. The utilization of such a device would allow the NHTSA to achieve their ultimate goal—to provide safer roads for all drivers in America.

The TextAid is a piece of technology that is highly feasible. Voice recognition software and bluetooth technology already exist. Having a bluetooth device the size of a hearing aid so that it wouldn’t be as obvious would be much more stylish in the eyes of most. For the development of this device, software engineers must be able to properly develop the program, as well as find a way to condense everything that is required for the device into an earpiece the size of a hearing aid. Also, bluetooth devices currently retail for around $100.00. If the TextAid is marketed around $90.00 it would add more competition to the market. Profit-per-device may not be as high as other devices; however, if it is required to offer this device as an additional add-on when a consumer is purchasing a bluetooth compatible cell phone, it can be assumed that more devices will be sold at this cheaper rate. As more devices are sold, the cost of production for each one will dramatically decrease.

As is the case with any new piece of technology, problems surely will arise. A potential problem of the TextAid is that the voice recognition software may not be able to properly recognize the words that the user is saying to the device. As a solution, frequent software updates would become available for the device. The user would simply have to plug the TextAid into the computer and then they would be able to receive software updates from the internet. Currently, the most well-known voice recognition application is Apple’s Siri, found on the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5. According to Apple, “. . . the more you use Siri, the better it will understand you” (iOS). Siri is capable of learning the user’s accent as well as other characteristics of their voice, and it uses “voice recognition algorithms to categorize your voice into one of the dialects or accents it understands.” Essentially, the more people that use Siri, the more languages and dialects it becomes accustomed to. Therefore, its overall performance continues to improve. The same could be said for the TextAid’s voice recognition program. The more people that use it, the more familiar it will become with various languages and dialects.

Another potential issue that may arise is that people who haven’t texted while driving before will have an excuse to now do so. Although this statement may be true, perhaps the reason why certain people didn’t text and drive before is because they found it to be unsafe and chose not to take the risk. If given a safe solution, texting and driving should be made legal, as it can be argued that talking on the phone with a hands-free device while driving is legal. As long as people are safely texting and driving and not risking their own lives or the lives of others, the issue of texting and driving will become much less prominent in the United States. As it is, according to a recent CDC study, a higher percentage of American drivers use their cell phones to make a call or send a text or email than drivers in numerous other European countries such as France, Germany, Belgium, the UK, or Spain. The TextAid would ultimately be sold internationally, but the most dramatic, beneficial effects to people would be seen in the United States. However, one could also say that there are still going to be people that text and drive without using this device. Of course completely eradicating unsafe texting and driving would be a nearly impossible feat, as there will always be those who believe that they are not distracted while they text and drive, and are not going to get in an accident. There are people on the road who feel that they do not need this technology. However, making this device easily accessible to people, along with more education on the consequences of texting and driving without a hands-free device, would greatly reduce the number of people injured or even killed as a result of texting and driving. In the end, lives would still be saved.

One variant of the TextAid that would also be available to consumers is a program that would be able to be installed into the vehicle, if the vehicle has a standard GPS system or bluetooth technology already built into the dashboard. Although this program would be available in such instances, the reason why the TextAid device itself is important to focus on is because the majority of people who practice unsafe texting and driving are between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four. At this age it is not unheard of—but it is highly unlikely—that they would be able to afford a car of such luxury that has this equipment standardized into the vehicle. The purpose of the TextAid device is to provide a safe, yet cost-effective way of texting and driving. If the TextAid was only developed into a program that worked on standardized GPS or bluetooth systems in a car, than the majority of the target audience for this product would not actually be affected. Giving more than one option for the TextAid program itself broadens the potential market as it pertains to more people.

It is highly important to invest in the TextAid and ensure that there are the funds necessary to allow this piece of technology to come to fruition. Although legislation to combat the epidemic of texting and driving exists in almost all of the fifty states, the results are not as dramatic as lawmakers have hoped. Thousands of people die every year as a result of texting and driving, and hundreds of thousands are injured. This number is only increasing. The warnings against texting while driving are prominent, yet people continue to do it. With the implementation of the TextAid, thousands of lives can be saved as a larger portion of drivers would be driving with less distraction. The TextAid is a device that would have a profound influence on society, as drivers wouldn’t have to take their eyes off of the road for the average “4.6 seconds” that it takes to send a text message; a time in which not only their life, but the life of another innocent driver could be lost.

Works Cited

“Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving.” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA, June 2012. Web. 16 Mar. 2013. <http://www.distraction.gov&gt;.

“Distracted Driving.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC, 14 Mar. 2013. Web. 16 Mar. 2013.

“iOS: Learn More About Siri.” Apple. Apple, n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2013.

“Texting While Driving Statistics.” Hofstra University. Hofstra, n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2013. <http://www.hofstra.edu&gt;.