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For Those Who Text and Drive, You Can Stop Now

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CAN technology solve problems that technology has created? Consider my dismay recently as I spied a driver on the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut weaving in and out of his lane because he was tapping out messages on his BlackBerry.

A Tiny Brain for Your Tire (December 23, 2007) A survey this year by AAA and Seventeen magazine found that 46 percent of drivers 16 and 17 years old said that they text-message while driving. It’s an alarming statistic given that 37 percent of teenage drivers said they believed that text messaging was the most serious driver distraction, according to a survey this year by the Liberty Mutual Insurance Group and Students Against Destructive Decisions.

Several states with distracted-driving laws, and states with pending laws, include a ban on text messaging. A ban in New Jersey, for example, takes effect in March.
As hands-free kits have helped ease the distraction problem of cellphones in cars, speech technology is trying to tackle the problem of the written word by reading messages aloud to drivers.

For example, Ford’s Sync technology package, available in about a dozen 2008 models, was developed by Microsoft to give drivers better control over music playback, such as through an iPod, by recognizing voice commands. In addition, the system will read aloud incoming messages. An electronic gong announces that a message has arrived, the system automatically interrupts music playback and a feminine robotic voice reads the missive.

The text-to-speech trick works only with S.M.S., or short message service, text messages sent to a phone. It cannot read incoming e-mail messages or handle the banter of instant messaging. And the voice system is one-way. It will read a message, but users can’t reply by voice.

Another voice system, by USTelematics, offers an application and online service called Vivee (Voice Interactive Voice Enhance E-mail). The software works with Windows Mobile devices, including the Palm Treo, and costs $29.99. Monthly service is an additional $4.99.

To get Vivee working, the software must be downloaded to a smart phone. Users log into the service, which connects to the Internet over the wireless data network. The female read-back voice of Vivee is much more natural than Sync’s, and Vivee can also handle e-mail.

Aside from the monthly charges, Vivee’s weakness is that it works only with about a dozen smart phones, including the Wing phone on T-Mobile and several Palm models offered on Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint. (The company said it was working on a version for the Apple iPhone.) As with the Sync, users cannot send messages by voice.

Sidestepping these limitations, there are services that work on any phone and allow voice replies. MobileVoice from One Voice Technologies, for example, is a subscription service offered through cellular carriers. Users dial a code to access the feature and then have their e-mail messages read to them over the phone. It allows users to listen to e-mail messages that are read in a (surprise) female voice or to reply by dictating a message.

MobileVoice is offered only by a handful of smaller cellular services, including Inland Cellular in parts of Washington and Idaho and Plateau Wireless in parts of New Mexico and Texas. Plateau charges $6 a month for the MobileVoice service. MobileVoice said it planned to offer the service through more carriers next year.

Users don’t need to rely on a cellular service or software to get such services. E-Max from Virtual Management, for example, is a phone service that reads important e-mail messages to users over any phone. The service is $19.95 a month and lets users filter out nuisance messages and spam by setting the system to allow only e-mail messages from a personal list of addresses. E-Max will let users record a reply, which is sent as an audio file in an e-mail attachment.

The problem with some of these systems is that to avoid the danger of texting while driving, users have to do something that is still a distraction: make a phone call. So maybe technology can’t solve all of its own problems after all.



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At December 25, 2007 at 6:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Technology can solve the problem by applying common sense rules into a technical solution. Please visit for our comprehensive solution.

As for legistlation, they require enforcement and that will be expensive and deamonize drivers without giving a solution. On the other hand, Speech recognition will only make matters worse because it is not reliable and will add to the confusion of the situation.

Mouhamad A. Naboulsi


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