ZoomSafer aims to stop distracted driving in its tracks

If you think you can keep one eye on the road and the other on your mobile phone while tapping out a text message and still drive safely, you’re wrong. It’s called distracted driving, and it’s a big problem.

“The safest way to use your phone while driving your car is to lock it in the trunk,” said Matt Howard, founder and CEO of ZoomSafer (www.zoomsafer.com), a Reston, Va., company with a solution for distracted driving. ZoomSafer disables texting and e-mailing while the vehicle is running.

“When our application is installed on a mobile smartphone, it puts the phone into safe mode,” Howard said. “We basically lock the screen and key pad. It’s the modern equivalent of the busy signal.” Preferences let the user choose whether incoming calls will ring through and taken using hands-free devices, which are legal in all 50 states, Howard said. Voice-activated outbound calls can also be made.

Howard’s motivation for creating Zoomsafer came after he hit a young bicyclist while he was sending a text message from behind the wheel of his car. “It was a scary, horrible experience. Thank God he was all right. I could have killed him. I don’t even remember what the text message was. I started looking for a solution to modify my behavior.”

The current version of ZoomSafer uses a phone’s global positioning satellite feature to determine if the device is in a moving vehicle. I tested the next generation version that relies on a Bluetooth connection in a vehicle to lock down the phone.

When activated, text or e-mail messages sent to the phone are stored in the phone, but the alert is disabled. The sender receives an automated response that says the message got through, but the recipient is driving and unable to respond safely.

Howard said Zoomsafer customers fall into three categories — parents who want to remove the texting distraction from teen drivers, employers whose workers operate company vehicles and people who want to quit the habit of e-mailing or texting while driving and choose to opt in.

“We don’t dictate policies. We enforce them,” Howard said in regard to allowing hands-free voice calls. Commercial fleet operators can log in to see when and for how long the system’s optional override feature was activated.

“We think about the worst-case scenario,” said Michael Costello, Zoomsafer chief operating officer. “If it’s 105 degrees in Las Vegas or 10-below in Fargo, and your driver wants to pull over and answer e-mail for 10 or 20 minutes and keep the engine running, it will work.”

The software runs on most BlackBerry and Android-based phones and some Windows mobile devices. It doesn’t yet run on the Apple iPhone. Customers pay $2.99 per month or $25 per year and can start with a free seven-day trial. The beta version of the Bluetooth-based version can be downloaded for free, Costello said.

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