Stop teens from texting while driving? It's something many parents would like to do, and now there's an app for it — thanks to Marla Ghiringhelli, an eastside resident and mother of two teenage boys.
The self-described suburban, non-tech savvy mom says she was moved by a 2010 tragedy where a Petaluma High grad, 18-year-old Kaitlyn Dunaway, became distracted by texting and struck and killed a 2-year-old girl crossing the road with her mother in Rohnert Park. News of that incident weighed heavily on Ghiringhelli's mind at the same time that her two boys were beginning to drive.
Ghiringhelli is far from alone in her concerns, with reports on the dangers of texting and driving proliferating in the news.
United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has called talking and texting on cell phones while driving "a national epidemic."
A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute shows that a driver's chance of crashing increases 23 times when texting.
And while a new California law makes it legal for motorists to send a text message while driving as long as they are using voice-operated, hands-free technology, many studies have shown that hands-free conversations are equally as distracting to drivers as conversations on hand-held devices.
That's where Ghiringhelli's phone application, Safe Text Sender, comes in. To use it, drivers activate the program when they are preparing to drive somewhere. Then, the program "automatically responds to incoming texts and phone calls, eliminating distractions and temptations for the driver," Ghiringhelli said. "The app quiets the phone while simultaneously responding with an auto reply: 'I am using Safe Text Sender. I am currently driving.'"
Missed calls and texts will be waiting for the driver when she reaches her destination. Ghiringhelli added that the reply can be customized for different situations, including going to the movies and working out.
The app, currently available only for Androids, was ready for sale in November 2012. It was featured on Jan. 20 in a Wall Street Journal blog highlighting "Phone Apps to Save Your Sanity, Life."
But a year ago, Safe Text Sender was little more than an idea in the mind of a mom who had scarce experience using apps, let alone developing them.