DES MOINES, Ia. -- Not many tech-savvy teenage drivers will be LOL (laughing out loud) after their parents download a new smartphone application that the Iowa Department of Transportation plans to develop.
The reaction among some teens, who rely on texting as their preferred mode of communication, is more likely to be OMG (Oh my God!) or YR (Yeah, right!).
The state transportation agency's app will be called "TXTL8R," short for "text later." The goal is to prevent young drivers from texting while behind the wheel.
"What we would like it to do is to turn off the texting availability of the phone any time it detects a speed over 15 mph," said Andrea Henry, an Iowa DOT spokeswoman.
The state agency is in the process of choosing a firm to create the teen driver safety app, which is expected to become available in early 2014, Henry said. The plan is for parents to have a portal on a desktop or laptop computer to monitor some of their teen's driving behaviors.
Teens' use of the app would be purely voluntarily to encourage safe driving.
"It is not tied in any way to the issuance of their license," Henry said.
051512 texting while driving
Insurance studies have shown increased risk of crashes because of texting while driving, especially for inexperienced drivers.
According to the Iowa Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau, distracted driving - including texting while driving - was a key factor in 679 Iowa traffic crashes in 2011. Text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted, officials said.
The District of Columbia and 41 states ban text messaging for all drivers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In addition, novice drivers are banned in Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas, leaving Arizona, Montana and South Carolina without bans.
Younger, inexperienced drivers have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes. Their lack of driving experience can contribute to critical misjudgments if they become distracted. But not surprisingly, they text more than any other age group, and the numbers of young drivers who text is increasing, Iowa safety officials said.
At the Iowa State Fair, where the state Transportation Department is promoting the teen driver app this week, reaction from parents, teens and others has been generally favorable. Free T-shirts advertising the app are being given away to those who obtain a certain score on driver's safety practice tests.
Julie Pollard of Woodburn, Iowa, said her 14-year-old twin daughters have just begun driving. As a concerned mother, she said she can see the app's safety benefits.
"I would love for kids not to text while driving," Pollard said. "My kids know not to answer the phone or text while driving."
Other youths said that because the app won't be mandatory, they weren't too concerned about a loss of privacy if a prying parent remotely monitors their driving habits.
"If you're trying to not text and drive and be a good model citizen or trying to break the habit of texting while driving, then maybe the app would help you," said Claire Anderson, 20, of Conrad, Iowa.
Teen drivers would be able to delete the text-blocking app - just as they can most other smartphone apps. However, parents would be notified if the safety app is removed from the phone, state officials said.
The Iowa Transportation Department will pick up the cost of the app for teens ages 14 to 17. Other motorists also will be able to acquire the app but a third-party vendor would charge a yet-to-be determined fee, Henry said.
Several text-blocking apps are available for Android and BlackBerry smartphones. The apps now available for the iPhone, SafeCell and Canary, don't block, delay or prevent texts but instead warn a texter of local laws or alert parents when an active texter is traveling more than 12 mph. (In its FAQs, Canary says the iPhone platform has security restrictions that prevent it from detecting text messages but it can tell when the phone is unlocked.)
Some of the apps, which use a phone's global positioning system capability to determine movement, carry a monthly fee. At least one Android app sends an automatic "Driving" message to anyone who calls or texts drivers while they are on the highway.