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App Can Prevent Users From Texting While Driving 144

Posted by timothy
from the I-was-just-context-switching dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Scientific American reports that while laws prohibit texting while driving in many states, many people still find it impossible to resist. Now researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are studying how software on a cell phone could analyze keystrokes to determine when that phone's user is distracted while composing and sending text messages and combined with GPS and other data, determine when a texter is behind the wheel and shut off texting functions automatically. Such a feature could take the form of a mobile app for any phone—independent of the manufacturer, operating system and wireless service provider. The researchers programmed a cell phone to log keystroke dynamics using a common operating system as a means of determining if an individual was texting while driving, in particular, 'keystroke entropy.' (PDF) when keys are struck at irregular intervals, as an indicator that the test subjects' attention is divided between texting and driving. 'The things that we are measuring, the data never needs to leave the person's phone,' says Mike Watkins, developer of the algorithm. 'But as a parent, you could require your child to have something like this on their cellphone as a way to protect them. Employers could use it as a way to mitigate their liability for accidents on work time. Even insurance companies could use it.'"
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App Can Prevent Users From Texting While Driving

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  • by Cosgrach (1737088) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @12:27PM (#41122881)

    If it really does work, why not just put it on all call phones ant make it so that it can not be disabled.

    Seriously, the number of people that I see looking at their crotch while driving is staggering.

    • Re:If it works... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Darkness404 (1287218) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @12:34PM (#41122931)
      How about lets make cars that can't go faster than XX miles per hour? How about we put a chip in the car that automatically finds where the car is via GPS and will throttle the engine so it can't break the speed limit?

      Just because something is technically possible doesn't mean its worth the damage to freedom.
      • by EGSonikku (519478)

        Yeah, they have that. It's called a rental car.

      • Re:If it works... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Zibodiz (2160038) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @01:58PM (#41123537)

        How about we put a chip in the car that automatically finds where the car is via GPS and will throttle the engine so it can't break the speed limit?

        If they did that, police would lose a huge revenue stream. Not going to happen.

        • mod parent up

        • by mysidia (191772)

          If they did that, police would lose a huge revenue stream. Not going to happen.

          Change that from will throttle the engine TO will automatically inform the local authorities, and submit evidence of speeding from the vehicle's black box and computer, so they can automatically issue a ticket.

          And it will be feasible.

          While they're at it, they can also install voice recognition, and issue fines to people who use swear words, while in their car.

      • How about lets make cars that can't go faster than XX miles per hour?

        How about we make cars stay in their lane unless actively steered out, and automatically brake when they detect obstacles in their path. These technologies already exist, and are already less expensive than the cost of the accidents that they prevent. This will prevent many accidents from texting, but also from drunks, sleepy drivers, parents with noisy kids in the backseat, absent minded programmers mentally designing a new algorithm instead of paying attention to their driving, etc. We should be using

      • by Mashiki (184564)

        How about we put a chip in the car that automatically finds where the car is via GPS and will throttle the engine so it can't break the speed limit?

        They already have limiters on cars. Most cars these days can exceed their speedometers for example, heck, most can't exceed 180km/h in some places. Some are higher, but here in Ontario, they already force trucks(semi's) to have a limiter so they can't go more than 105km/h. But I'll tell you what this leads to. Nothing good. Gigantic blocks of traffic on the highway.

        I hate driving here.

      • Driver operated vehicles are dangerous contraptions. We will not be safe until self driving cars become ubiquitous, and the steering wheel and pedals are removed completely. The human can play with the radio.

      • by stymy (1223496)
        I think many German cars are limited to 155 mph, not sure if it's done with a chip or with a modification to the throttle though.
    • by arth1 (260657)

      If it really does work, why not just put it on all call phones ant make it so that it can not be disabled.

      So my friend who has cerebral palsy should not be allowed to text?

      Slap "reckless endangerment" and felony imprisonment on texting while operating a vehicle, and I bet the problem will be solved without harming anyone else.

      This seems to me to be a bad idea, and someone is trying to sell it. I.e. it's not about making people safer, it's about making money.
      Slashdot, as so often before, obliges with free advertisement.

      • Re:If it works... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by green1 (322787) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @01:41PM (#41123411)

        how about completely ignoring what a person is doing, and only punish them if they are driving recklessly, regardless of the cause. We have laws against reckless driving already. don't make up new ones for each thing a person could possibly imagine doing. You'll never get every possible stupid act in a list anyway, and you will punish people who are actually being safe. I now live in a place where it's illegal to glance at the screen of your cell phone while stopped with the gear selector in park waiting for a 15 minute train to go by, and yet driving 20 under the limit in the fast lane on the expressway is perfectly fine. more laws isn't the answer, enforce the ones we already have instead.

        I also wonder how long before we get stuck in a situation where cars drive themselves, but the person sitting in the driver's seat isn't allowed to do anything while there because of outdated laws that rarely if ever get taken off the books.

        • how about completely ignoring what a person is doing, and only punish them if they are driving recklessly, regardless of the cause. We have laws against reckless driving already.

          I've often wondered about this. Why don't we just have basic, universal laws against things like dangerous or inconsiderate driving?

          After a while, I realised it's because these laws invariably leave a gray area right around the point that the people who we're trying to discourage from doing dumb things are actually doing those dumb things. Worse, those people are often in denial about their problem. Just look at the number of past Slashdot discussions where numerous people claim they can phone/text/whatever

        • by drkim (1559875)

          ...punish them if they are driving recklessly, regardless of the cause.

          We have that in CA
          Section 22350: unsafe speed for prevailing conditions. And those conditions can be the driver not paying attention.

        • by chihowa (366380)

          punish them if they are driving recklessly

          I think it'd be cool if we could actually start doing that regularly. In my experience, police only really pull people over for speeding. Tailgating, cutting people off, changing lanes without signaling, all of the above simultaneously... the cops don't bat an eye, or they're the ones doing it. But speeding, they're all over that.

        • by Khashishi (775369)

          Because "recklessly" is a very subjective and arbitrary and good laws have some reasonable criteria for when they are triggered. In practice, that means the cops look for certain behaviors like texting while driving, and the courts punish people based on what kind of behaviors people were doing.

        • by mysidia (191772)

          how about completely ignoring what a person is doing, and only punish them if they are driving recklessly, regardless of the cause.

          The problem is this doesn't protect people who aren't driving recklessly, until after they're dead.

          The only real way I can think of to detect if a texter is driving recklessly independent of their activity, is to have some mechanism, where random 'check obstacles' are deployed on the road, at random places, 1 stopping distance + 5 seconds away from approaching

      • The problem with anti texting laws is the law of unintended consequences. Instead of holding the phone up higher where someone could see the phone and traffic at the same time (and where a cop could see), they now put it in their lap and take chances. And worse punishments don't always reduce infractions.

      • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

        Slap "reckless endangerment" and felony imprisonment on texting while operating a vehicle, and I bet the problem will be solved without harming anyone else.

        I will take that bet. We have plenty of laws against doing obviously stupid things, but people still do them. Increased cracking down on drunk drivers has gone into the law of diminishing returns area, people end up in prison despite not having hurt anyone, and people still do it. If the daily mug shot links on news aggregation sites are an indicator,

      • by mysidia (191772)

        Slap "reckless endangerment" and felony imprisonment on texting while operating a vehicle, and I bet the problem will be solved without harming anyone else.

        No... the 'dangerous' people won't get that memo.

        And the law will become another tool that can be leveraged to unfairly imprison people.

        When you consider what techniques law enforcement will have to use to prove that crime -- things such as reviewing records from cell phone companies, and finding a call or text sent 5, 10 minutes before the acci

    • by fa2k (881632)

      Imagine if you're tied up in the back seat of a mad criminal's car, but you can get your hands on the phone and awkwardly type out a message (can't call 911 as the driver will hear it).

    • If it really does work, why not just put it on all call phones ant make it so that it can not be disabled.

      Seriously, the number of people that I see looking at their crotch while driving is staggering.

      It doesn't matter if it works. If you take that distraction away, people will turn to another. The accident rate per driver per mile has remained almost exactly the same since 1990, year on year. It did improve up until that point, probably due to better tires, suspension, brakes and seat belts, but its stayed within a few places to the right of the decimal point since.

      A lot has changed in that time in terms of the introduction of cell phones, the crackdown on drunk driving, etc. Yet it appears that non

    • by Meski (774546)
      You're assuming they have a phone there?
  • won't work. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by flogger (524072) <non@nonegiven> on Saturday August 25, 2012 @12:28PM (#41122889) Journal

    when keys are struck at irregular intervals, as an indicator that the test subjects' attention is divided between texting and driving.

    So the way to get around that, if you are the teen forced to have this app, is to pay less attention on driving and focus on the texting.

    • That's one reason why I ride the city bus: so that I can put next to no attention on the driving (apart from occasionally looking at my device's clock to see when I'm about to arrive at my stop) and nearly undivided attention on the task that I'm performing on my device.
    • Or even if you're not specifically trying to get around the app, what's to stop people from getting frustrated when their phone won't type, and gradually paying more attention to the phone as they're shaking it and cursing?

    • by chill (34294)

      That would be self-correcting in the long run, for what I think would be obvious reasons.

    • by C0R1D4N (970153)
      Even if the app is locked so you can't disable it, I know on my tablet I can disable GPS from the notification bar
    • by Khashishi (775369)

      Well, then you install steering entropy monitor system on your car, and shut down the engine if the car thinks it isn't getting enough attention.

      • Sure, it will be completely safe if the motor is shut off in the middle of the highway, especially if the driver is not paying attention ...

  • But... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 25, 2012 @12:30PM (#41122895)

    ... if it's measuring keystroke entropy, wouldn't that mean the person is already starting to text? I've seen lots of solutions like this before (flash random letters/numbers, require parroting those letters/numbers, etc), and it's the same issue: you're responding to something someone is doing instead of proactively not allowing the person to do it in the first place. Essentially, the person could already be causing a problem on the road.

    In other words, it's an interesting piece of academic work that I'm sure has applications elsewhere, however it's not going to solve the problem of texting behind the wheel.

    • by icebike (68054) *

      Good point.

      Fishing the phone out, opening the texting screen and starting to text is probably the most dangerous time, whereas entering characters slowly while attempting to watch the road is probably not quite so dangerous (although still dangerous enough since you pretty much can't text on a touch screen one handed).

      I suspect that the design here is to make it futile to try to text, thereby extinguishing the urge to do so.

      I also wonder what some of the predictive keyboards such as Swiftkey [swiftkey.net] that can predic

      • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

        (although still dangerous enough since you pretty much can't text on a touch screen one handed).

        And this is why such solutions will fail. I pretty much can't text two handed on a touch screen. I guess that means people are different.

        I further infer that means this technology might be able to capture a majority of the people, but will give false positives and false negatives, which will frustrate users. I watch people touch-text while talking, not looking at their device, just like I've had people touch-t

  • Public Transport (Score:5, Insightful)

    by p0p0 (1841106) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @12:36PM (#41122941)
    So basically they are taking it upon themselves to ban you from texting in a public transport, or as a passenger. Many rides are bumpy enough and anyone carrying on a conversation might seem distracted enough for the app to trigger.

    All this is going to do is force drivers to pay MORE attention to the phone as they don't want their message to be cancelled by the app.
    • I imagine that if a measure like this is made mandatory, people who hold a monthly bus pass would have a case for an exemption.
      • by Knuckles (8964)

        Well I don't hold a monthly bus pass because I can satisfy most of my daily routines by bike and the monthly pass is too expensive for occasional use, but I still want to be able to type erratically when I ride the bus using a single-trip ticket. Also, trains - very often, the train track runs alongside the road, not sure the GPS can distinguish this reliably.

        • Combine the app with the train ticket purchase app. If you are using the train without a ticket, not being able to text will be your least concern. ;-)

          • by Knuckles (8964)

            It's obvious you don't know the state of public transport ticket vending machines in Berlin :) I'd be happy if they were able to print tickets at a speed that does not regularly make me miss the next subway train. Sophistication like you describe it is not around the corner ....

    • by icebike (68054) *

      So basically they are taking it upon themselves to ban you from texting in a public transport, or as a passenger. Many rides are bumpy enough and anyone carrying on a conversation might seem distracted enough for the app to trigger. .

      The linked article [scientificamerican.com] suggests otherwise.

      They can distinguish between texting by the driver and texting by a passenger based on the cadence of typing.

      Realize of course this was in a simulator. They plan to put it on a closed course with actual cars for further testing.

  • What a pain! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jittles (1613415) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @12:37PM (#41122943)

    The GPS built into my car has this capability already. What was the first thing I did when I got the car home? I took the damn thing apart and disabled the system that prevents you from using the GPS while driving. Why? Because I like to have passengers in my car. Its perfectly safe for a passenger to use the GPS all they want while I am driving. Hell they can even watch a DVD in the surround sound system in the car while I drive. I don't care. I'm not distracted by it, so what does it matter? (Though I will say in most jurisdictions just being able to see the movie is grounds for a moving violation, so be careful.)

    Anyway, this software is likely to think that a passenger who is texting while talking to other people in the car are distracted drivers as well. Why don't we just give up on using technology to babysit people in these areas and start teaching people responsibility? If there is a way to disable texting while driving, someone can re enable it by rooting/jailbreaking their phone and modifying the software. What is the point in entering this arms race? People need to learn to make intelligent decisions, and not have intelligent decisions forced upon them.

    • Re:What a pain! (Score:4, Informative)

      by mlts (1038732) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @12:42PM (#41122969)

      The Ford SYNC system does this already. If the car is going more than 3 miles/hour, you can't do a lot of functions, including look through an address book unless you use the voice features.

      The problem is two things: Bad drivers, and sue-happy people. If a wreck happens, the attorneys involved want to go after the people with the deep pockets, not the party at fault. So, this is why Ford and other makers have to put this brain-damaged crap in their vehicles, just so they can claim they did their due diligence in dealing with the idiots.

      • by jittles (1613415)
        I'm sure you can disable that if you want. They always leave a way to do so, it seems like. They know that some people would not pay for a factory system that cripples them when they could buy an aftermarket system that has no such limitations. The handsfree in my car is tied to the GPS system, and once I cracked that thing, I was able to do whatever I want with the phone while driving. Though my car doesn't have the voice commands. I really liked the SYNC system I played around with.
      • Don't hold Ford SYNC up as a model. My version, about 6 months old, fails on nearly a daily basis. It's by Microsoft and I wish they had included a version of the three fingered salute.

      • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

        Prius does a similar thing. If you use the voice features for anything more complicated than you can do manually, most of the time it will tell you to stop the car first.

        And for jittles - no, you can't disable this in a Prius without a hardware hack. And it's not something that most people who have bought the car since they disabled manually overriding it 6 years ago think about before deciding to include. Very few people know to ask, and very few have the option - either the car that's on the lot has it

        • by jittles (1613415)
          Mine was a hardware hack as well. I basically had to crack the unit open and do some soldering to override the motion lock. It wasn't that hard. The most stressful part of the job was trying not to damage the trim on the car. With good carbon fiber trim removal tools, that wasn't hard at all.
  • by Bogtha (906264) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @12:43PM (#41122977)

    Heuristics like this might be interesting on a theoretical level, but they won't be anywhere near as reliable as other approaches. I don't want my phone to have its functions disabled because I'm halfway through typing a text message and I sneeze or something. Phone integration with cars is only going to increase. Link cars with phones via Bluetooth and have the cars tell the phones when they are in motion.

  • "But as a parent, you could require your child to have something like this on their cellphone as a way to protect them..."
    • Frankly, with children driving, the question whether they text at the same time would be my least concern. :-)

  • No! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @12:45PM (#41122999) Journal

    I would never install an app that detected when I was driving and shut

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You won't have to, it will be installed in hardware for you.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Shouldn't that work against drunk texting as well?

    Yours, Big Brother.

  • by future assassin (639396) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @01:15PM (#41123213) Homepage

    Forget about teaching your children not to do it, we`ll just create another useless device to offset parenting skills and common sense. So tell me genius what keeps the kids from having a second phone and switch the sim card.

    • Forget about teaching your children not to do it, we`ll just create another useless device to offset parenting skills and common sense.

      If your plan requires a large number of people to have parenting skills or common sense, or any other virtue, your plan will fail. If it requires people to be vile, stupid animals, you'll probably get get much better results. If it only requires that people breathe from time to time, it's a very good plan.

      9.6 / 10 people suck. You know that if you've ever been in traffic.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "As an insurance company, you could require your customers to have something like this on their phone"

    FTFY

  • What if this were mandatory and tied to the app that measures your driving for the insurance company?
    Not good with its error rate. False positives be dammed, we are raising your rates!

    How about a different solution? A device in the car, NFC, RFID, Bluetooth, etc, that handshakes with phones in the car, and which the driver has to answer to show which passenger is the driver. Then the app on the drivers phone disables texting until you are out of the car. Until someone with a phone present claims to

    • by tftp (111690)

      Get an old phone without a SIM card or a contract. (This phone can only call 911.) Then keep it in the car and designate that phone as a driver's phone. How is the car to know?

      Also, have someone to stand near the car. Start the car and designate the stranger's phone as the driver's phone. Drive away. The software will probably decide that the driver's phone lost power.

      Have your phone off when you start the car. Start driving. Later turn the phone on. What will happen then? Is this phone in your car or

  • But goddamn enforce it! Law can be a great thing if it's used correctly, or if it's used at all. We have scores of freedoms we take for granted, because if we engaged in them we'd get kicked in the face or put in a cell. To limit freedoms by making things impossible is a road that ends short of breath and in a collective straitjacket. Auchtung!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    It is pretty obvious from all of these comments so far, the ones decrying this software, and going on and on about how it wrong to deprive those on public transportation, blah blah blah, and how we should teach people personal responsibility, don't get it. If we could teach personal responsibility, there wouldn't be a need for this kind of software. Personally, I think we should get to drag the morons we catch texting while driving, screaming from their cars and beat the hell out of them using their phones

  • by Mister Whirly (964219) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @01:55PM (#41123519) Homepage
    People that have been kidnapped have texted from the trunks of cars alerting others to what is going on. Imagine if those texts were blocked because you were in a moving vehicle and you were not typing normally?
  • There's a commercial company called Zoomsafer [zoomsafer.com] that has been doing work related to this. Their current software offerings focus on measuring use of devices in fleet contexts to help companies manage risk.

  • Unless I'm navigating, I leave the GPS powered off. I suppose this software will require GPS always on. Not sure how that will work out.
  • Seems there would be a lot of collateral damage here. Also, what happens when you disable the GPS to save battery life? Will this app be broken/disabled or are we going to be required to enable the GPS at all times and worsen battery life for our own protection?

  • driving and other things ?? You've never had someone talking at you/to you while you were trying to text, or any number of "other things" that cause your attention to waver...say that PHAT princess that just walked by...
    The texting and driving laws recently passed are useless grandstanding laws passed by politicos that are attention whores by definition. The generic driving laws cover driving and performing any actions which draws your attention away from the dangerous job of driving.

  • - a tree
    - a truck
    - an other car
    - a 3 years old.

  • This is like navigation systems that don't let you use them when the car is moving even though a passenger could be entering the info. I recently sent a message for my son who was driving. Perfectly safe even though the GPS would have detected motion. Maybe the app needs to read the status of the passenger airbag: if it is off due to no passenger, then block texting.
  • No sir. It's not as if a community has grown around add and removing features outside of the manufacturer's specifications to Iphones
  • This is a horrible idea. This will encourage people to focus more attention on texting if they choose to text and drive.

    If people did not think they could text and drive safely, they wouldn't. The people who believe this will simply spend more of their attention on the texting and less on the driving.

  • Especially if the phone has real buttons. They can be operated without looking, so there is no "erratic" input caused by only taking glimpses at the phone.
  • Is because I'm now expected to negotiate Bluetooth synchronization and connection issues while operating a medium class machinery through traffic, trying to sound pleasant for the speech activated control system and holding a conversation without saying any key words. I mean, really? This technology saves lives? FFS! Can I just pick 2?! And I expect we'll be waiting a fair while before the road fatality statistics start recording that the minority of people who insist on operating within the law will be th
  • This is why I still use my Motorola StarTAC.
  • Why not switch-off the phone while driving?

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