Please let me text-while-I-drive without actually texting anymore

I’m guilty: I text while I drive. And I do it a lot. Like any entrepreneurially minded problem-solver, I’m looking for solutions to this problem, because somehow, everyone’s dropped the ball on this issue. Car makers, cellphone makers, entrepreneurs, the government: they’ve all taken way too long to address this often life-and-death issue. There still isn’t a widespread, consumer-friendly, handsfree speech-to-text solution while driving.

Let’s be clear: texting-while-driving is a major issue. I’m not the only one who’s doing it a lot. The Yuma Sun reports that:

According to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, texting while driving increases the risk of a crash 23-fold. The study further indicated that the average text message takes 5 seconds, which means that a driver who texts at 55 mph would travel the length of a football field without ever looking at the road.

A 2009 self-report survey found 51.4 percent of drivers age 16 to 19 admit to texting while driving, despite laws in many states prohibiting it.

These facts are alarming, and they’re not going to change anytime soon. As many people my age will know, texting is sometimes more appropriate than calling someone depending on the situation. Who you’re talking to, what you’re talking about, etc… all play factors in texting over calling.

I’ve recently turned to Dragon Dictation, an extremely useful iPhone app that let’s you dictate anything to it and will instantly transcribe it to text, which you can send out via SMS, e-mail, Twitter, etc…

While this can be handy, make no mistake, it does not solve the problem. It is still no where close to handsfree. I still need to take out my iPhone, tap Dragon’s app icon, tap record, tap done when I’m finished, tap send, tap SMS, etc… Now that’s a lot of taps, too many to be considered “safe” in any respect.

A truly integrated solution is what’s needed; something that’s built into what’s commonly called an “in-car user interface” (others call it “multimedia interface,” etc… basically the main ‘screen’ of the car). Placing the controls of this new technology into the automobile’s central user screen is the surest way to make it user-friendly and minimize taps, button presses, and fiddling around with other devices. As more and more of these in-car computers come standard, modern versions include auto-update features similar to cellphones, so these types of features could be added to any car. It can achieve widespread adoption in less time than if it were to debut three or four years ago.

If I were an automotive company, I would be jumping on this problem immediately. It’s just great marketing waiting to be exploited. Just imagine, “Company X was the first manufacturer to successfully implement speech-to-text messaging across all our cars, earning it Safety Award Y and accolades Z and W.”

This isn’t limited to just the big companies either; startups should actively approach this problem as well, seeking a solid exit to companies like Microsoft, who’ve developed the SYNC platform, or even being acquired by car companies. It’s not too hard to imagine this happening, either.

If free market incentives won’t make for a push, the government should mandate it as a standard safety feature in all cars, mirroring legislation in certain states that prohibit users from holding the phone up to their ears. That jumpstarted bluetooth implementation in a really big way. The same should happen for texting. (Note that bluetooth technology was cheap and widespread already when the law went into affect, as is the same for this speech-to-text technology. Apps like Dragon Dictation work miraculously, and best of all: they’re available to “plug-in” to other apps and services. Companies large and small alike could make use of their software development kit to mash-up a Dragon-based handsfree speech-to-text system. This puzzle’s just dying to be cracked already!

Furthermore, this is an easy problem to solve. Most cars now have built-in bluetooth handsfree calling solutions, so microphones and speakers are already in place. The more advanced setups have easy to use address book and phone buttons built into the in-car computer and controls. This would be just a small extension to that. I guarantee that if in-car systems were more like their “grown-up” personal computer counterparts, this would have already been done. Someone would have just made an “app” for it in a few days. But since they’re mostly proprietary systems, that doesn’t happen.

Speaking of apps, there have been a few that have tried to address this problem, although indirectly and without really solving it. For example, Daniel Finnegan put an app together called “No Text While Driving.” It basically uses the phone’s accelerometer to measure when you’re moving in a vehicle, and automatically sends out “Sorry i can’t text right now, I’m driving” messages to anyone who texts you. That way you don’t have to seem rude. This app’s intentions are good, but it’s only a half-step on the way to increasing highway safety while keeping us connected.

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