As the awareness of distracted driving grows, so does the number of add-on products that are designed to address the problem. Most fall into two categories, as described below.
These are designed to help drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel by allowing them to verbally send and receive calls, texts, e-mail, and more. The products are usually voice-controlled and can read incoming messages to the driver. But they don't eliminate any distraction caused by hands-free communication. We looked at three products of this type:
($4/month or $14/year)
This smart-phone app reads text messages and e-mail aloud and allows drivers to speak responses or verbally compose new messages. We found that the voice recognition didn't always work or it required commands to be repeated. A free version can read messages up to 25 words. For Android and BlackBerry phones.
The S4 connects to a phone with Bluetooth and, in addition to the core functions, allows Bing 411 access for weather, traffic, and other travel information. We found that the S4 worked well for incoming messages and replies, but initiating calls was more challenging. Not all smart phones have voice-command features or allow the S4 access to them. And using voice commands often resulted in the S4 dialing a wrong number. Functions beyond hands-free voice calls require a compatible app.
This is similar in size and function to the BlueAnt S4. It also works better for incoming calls than for outgoing ones, and it has similar compatibility and voice-recognition issues. Its messaging app works with Android phones.
These allow parents to restrict the cell-phone use of their teenage drivers and to track their behavior behind the wheel. An app of this type, installed in a teenager's smart phone, usually disables the keypad and blocks incoming calls, e-mail, and text messages once the phone senses that it is moving faster than a specified speed. Some systems can also alert parents if the teenager speeds, or leaves or arrives at a preset location. They usually require a subscription plan. We recently looked at two of these products:
($7/month or $70/year)
The tXtBlocker is the most effective antitexting product we've tried. In addition to disabling the phone, it allows parents to set limits on where and when messages can be sent or received and allows the phone's location to be tracked on a website. It also allows calls to 911 and selected contacts. For Android and BlackBerry phones.
($3/month or $25/year)
This product is cheaper but lacks some of tXtBlocker's features, such as tracking and zone-based blocking. And because TeenSafer requires a Bluetooth connection to automatically activate, it can be circumvented if the user doesn't connect it. For BlackBerry phones.