By on August 27, 2012

According to what one of my son’s classmates’ mothers told me recently, texting and driving claims up to 3.2 million lives every years in the United States. Now, there’s talk of an app that could stop the highways from becoming rivers of blood.

While there are all sorts of ways to theoretically prevent people from doing the text-and-drive thing, mostly based on using the GPS bundled with most modern phones to measure speed, one group of researchers has come up with a better idea. Scientific American reports that

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) 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…

After evaluating the sensitivity of the keystroke entropy indicator against the number of keystrokes recorded, the researchers found they could accurately and relatively quickly identify when a test subject had been both texting and operating the simulator. They found normal texting took on more rhythmic patterns.

Oh yes, I think a lot of us have sent that special someone a text composed in a rhythmic pattern. Let’s make sure we keep the airwaves open for those, even if they are composed while driving.

On the face of it, this seems to be the most sensible idea yet, since it addresses the disease — distraction — and not the symptom — a phone in the vicinity of an automobile. There are two downsides, however. The first one is that it actually punishes people for taking a moment to check the road ahead. If you just put your head down and focus on your text, your phone will work right up to the point where you hit that stopped schoolbus.

The other, more dire difficulty is that it encourages people — and by “people” here I mean women under the age of 40 — to put even less thought into what they text. I mean, just taking a moment to reconsider one’s word choice can set the thing off. You all know what I mean right?

Your humble author: So, I was thinking about you the other day. The forceful softness of your lips. The way your laugh resonates like a cathedral bell, forged in an ancient cellar by a monk with perfect pitch. The muscular, equine curve of your perfectly formed hips.

Woman who in actual life is a perfectly literate and reasonable executive: lol thats hot so r u comin over 2 c me or wat

Your humble author If this is Prince responding to this text, I just want to express my sentiment that you completely phoned-in “Graffiti Bridge”.

Could it get worse? Let’s hope the nice people at PNNL get too distracted by something else to finish this project.

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61 Comments on “The Anti-Texting App Of The Future Punishes The Weak-Fingered...”

  • avatar

    Interesting post. Since most of today’s devices have a GPS chip, why not also include speed data to determine how fast the person is moving? Keystroke input would be different for drivers than passengers and speed data would be another determining factor.

  • avatar

    Do you ever wonder if the text-speak users see themselves as having mastered a new language and if they look down on those of us that still try to spell words and form sentences?

  • avatar

    3.2 million lives claimed in the US by Texting? Over how many years? Really?

  • avatar

    The problem with GPS or speed restricted phones is that they can’t tell a driver from a passenger.
    I do agree something has to be done. I regularly drive by or get passed by someone who has both hands on their phone and an elbow on the wheel.

    • 0 avatar

      I disagree – nothing “has to be done”.

      (If anything *should* be done, it’d be punitive fines for people who get in wrecks or cause damage or injury where their cell history shows they were dinking with the phone when it happened.

      Ideally do the same thing with mandated radio control histories and head position monitors so that people who can’t talk to a passenger without rotating their head 90 degrees to the right get the appropriate penalty.

      The “problem” as you suggest is not “texting while driving” – it’s reckless fools. Stopping “texting while driving” won’t work; first because the reckless fools will still be reckless fools, and second because it’s *practically* impossible.

      Here in Oregon, for instance, it’s illegal to use a phone while driving without a hands-free unit.

      Guess how often I see someone talking on the phone without one on the road?

      *Every. Single. Day.* – The law is utterly ignored, and if they tried to enforce it the outcry would be so vast I suspect it’d be repealed.

      We need less “there oughta be a law”.)

  • avatar

    “Texting and driving claims up to 3.2 million lives every years in the United States.”

    Man, that’s an amusing image. If it were true the road outside my house would resemble a grisly pantomime of a demolition derby, less the safety equipment, fire trucks, and space constriction keeping people from getting over 20 or 30 mph.

    I could quit my job and just harvest the wallets from the dead and dying who texted their way into the tree in my front yard.

  • avatar

    So would this same App prevent drunk texting? Or one handed texting?

  • avatar

    Pilots are trained to enter text Into the panel one letter at a time. You scan, enter a letter, scan, enter a letter, etc.

    Of course, if you are driving you can pull over and likely get the text done faster, or wait for a light. It won’t cost time because driving while texting will slow you down unless you are doing it unsafely.

    I may be wrong, but isn’t this app going to encourage you to try to get the text done all at once?

  • avatar

    Our highways are safer than ever. The number of deaths has decreased every year since cellphones became widespread.

    The end result of these discussions, as always, is a law or some other avenue to get our money either through ticket revenues, taxes, etc.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, and the number of muggings consistently goes down whenever hot cocoa sales go up. Correlation and causation, etc.

      Perhaps there’s been a massive improvement in automotive safety equipment since the 1980s, that happened to occur at the same time as cellphones becoming widespread? I wonder if that had anything to do with it.

    • 0 avatar


      Not quite.

      The biggest reason for reduced fatalities is the plethora of safety mechanism, such as airbags, increased structural integrity when IN an accident, but I doubt the accident rate itself has gone down dramatically overall, just that the SEVERITY of them has, even with smaller cars.

      That said, there is more competition from people to do other things, besides watching the road, so the frequency of small fender benders tends to still be far too many. I often see, or hear of them almost daily around where I live.

  • avatar

    Bell-casting Monks need to have perfect pitch? What if they’re Trappists? Would we ever know?

    And whom are you calling a horse? Sarah Jessica Parker?

  • avatar

    Bell-forging Monks need to have perfect pitch? What if they’re Trappists? Would we ever know? Aren’t bells cast, not forged?

    And whom are you calling a horse? Sarah Jessica Parker?

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    “The muscular, equine curve of your perfectly formed hips.”

    I have never before considered telling a woman that she has horse-like hips, mainly because I like to stay alive.

  • avatar
    Polar Bear

    Why single out texting? What about people who drive and

    Have sex
    Watch Jerry Springer
    Apply makup (and they are male)
    Shave (and they are female)

  • avatar

    So why did you have to bring Prince into this? Better yet, why did you have to bring up Grafitti Bridge?

  • avatar

    “he muscular, equine curve of your perfectly formed hips.”

    Giddyap, whoa, back.

  • avatar

    How about giving police officers access to text message records and stiffening penalties?

    If an officer pulls someone over suspecting distracted driving he could call in or check a provider database to determine if a text was sent at the time of the violation. If the times match the driver is arrested on the spot much like a DUI.

    • 0 avatar

      Due process is such a hinderance to effective law enforcement…

      • 0 avatar

        How would this violate due process? As long as an officer has probable cause he can search your cell phone for data relevant to the crime in the same way he can search a murder suspect’s pockets or car for a gun.

    • 0 avatar

      Wouldn’t work, and after several abuses of said access it would have to be ended. So why start?

      • 0 avatar

        What sort of abuses did you have in mind? Police have access to all sorts of privileged information. Date stamps for text messages are next to useless outside of a traffic enforcement context. The database wouldn’t need to have message content or even recipient phone numbers, just a record of a text being sent.

      • 0 avatar

        The abuses would come because they would never accept just the times. A decent lawyer would find lots of ways around that. So they will get everything. I don’t care if they find evidence of murder and then prosecute for that. What I do mind is the other abuses and reasons to get more evidence, and then how they use that. If I dig into your life, I will find things that,if made public, will harm you. It will embarrass you, reduce your business opportunities, whatever. The books are full of police and other bureaucrats using that power wrongly, and the punishment for THAT is generally waived. Using text and cell data, and even car data, as evidence gets nasty around the edges. It will be used to prove things it doesn’t as it already is. I don’t want to be drug into a drag net because they think I texted someone at 12:01. They should need more reason to start digging into my life. (Especially since my FBI file likely says to nuke me from orbit ever since I played OPFOR at a SWAT academy).

    • 0 avatar

      “What sort of abuses did you have in mind? Police have access to all sorts of privileged information. Date stamps for text messages are next to useless outside of a traffic enforcement context. The database wouldn’t need to have message content or even recipient phone numbers, just a record of a text being sent.”

      And you really believe that police and prosecutors won’t cross reference that data if they think it’s relevant to another investigation? Even without the message content, who you are sending msgs to and at what time can be used as evidence of a criminal conspiracy.

      I had an accident a few weeks ago. It was entirely my fault, due to distracted driving. I admit it, I rear ended someone at light when I couldn’t stop in time. I wasn’t distracted by any electronic device, I was checking an address, doing that silly human thing where we keep looking at addresses even though we know our destination is still down the street. I looked up, traffic was stopped, the road was wet and I barely slid under the bumper of the vehicle in front of me.

      Would you ban maps?

      At which point are we going to treat people like adults who are agents of choice?

      • 0 avatar

        “At which point are we going to treat people like adults who are agents of choice?”

        That’s an excellent question and sadly it seems the only way to coerce some into acting as such is with punishment. Text messaging has become a serious issue not unlike drunk driving; what is your solution? Allow it to continue and politely ask drivers not to do it?

        I would not ban maps but then again I’m not nearly killed multiple times a week by drivers reading maps.

        I think you’ve been watching a lot of CSI but to answer your question I absolutely believe that prosecutors would and should take advantage of text message time stamps if they could somehow make use of them in other investigations.

        If the police tied a pistol to a murder and after further examination of the pistol determined that the it had also been used in two other murders would you expect them to dismiss the evidence since it was initially brought in only for the first?

      • 0 avatar

        Sorry to disappoint you but I don’t think I’ve watched a complete episode of CSI yet.

        I ask about treating people like adults and you respond with a call for coercion. Well, I guess we know who the authoritarian is around here.

        If the evidence was not obtained in a constitutional manner, yes, I’d expect them to ignore it, as courts do every day.

      • 0 avatar

        Haha, I guess should change my avatar to a picture of Kim Jong Il. You can call me an authoritarian, fascist, communist, whatever you please but the reality is that many adults don’t act like adults and since anyone with a pulse can get a drivers license there must be some way to keep those who don’t care about the safety of others from acting like idiots. The “can’t we all just get along” approach just doesn’t work with many people.

      • 0 avatar


        If you were around 80 years ago you’d probably be advocating eugenics and sterilization of low IQ adults. How could we let “defectives” breed? I know, it’s for the greater good. Think of the children!

    • 0 avatar

      “How about giving police officers access to text message records and stiffening penalties?”

      How about not?

      Your approach is overkill.

      There’s no particular reason to single out phones or any other specific type of distraction. If a driver is driving badly, then the reasons aren’t relevant.

      From a public policy standpoint, it makes no difference if a driver is distracted by his phone, or by his cigarette, or by a song on the radio, or by the latte that he spilled in his lap, or by the hot babe on the sidewalk, or by a daydream, or by an argument with his wife, or by the dog barking in the back. The goal should be to reduce the accident rate, not to adopt a moral hierarchy of distractions.

      • 0 avatar

        Distracted driving is a much bigger problem than it was 10 or 15 years ago and it isn’t because people are eating more bagels on their way to work, it is because of mobile devices and their popularity among the younger generations. If you know the source of a problem why would you choose to treat only the symptoms?

        Although I think the penalties can be overly stiff, targeting drunk drivers has made a difference in death rates and has brought about a cultural shift to where driving after more than few drinks has become a social taboo. Would this type of enforcement be such a bad thing if applied to mobile devices?

      • 0 avatar

        “Distracted driving is a much bigger problem than it was 10 or 15 years ago”

        I’m sure that in your imagination, that’s true. But there’s no statistical support for that claim.

        The problem is that you want to pass laws based upon your gut feelings. You have a bee in your bonnet about phones, so voila, you feel entitled to demand that the entire law enforcement system reallocate its resources in order to cater to your whims.

        Drivers have been distracted since there have been drivers. According to the Virginia Tech/ NHTSA naturalistic study, the most common factor in distracted driving crashes was when the driver looked out of the wrong window. If you think that drivers who use phones are going to become Jackie Stewart if they are phoneless, then you’re just fooling yourself.

      • 0 avatar


        Why would it not matter? I’ll tell you why it WOULD matter. No matter WHAT the source, if it’s found to have caused the accident, it’s the source of the distraction, even inexperience can be chalked up to a distraction of sorts because the young/new driver was trying to figure out their way out of a situation, sans experience to know how.

        If texting or jabbering on the phone is found to be the root cause of the accident, then it should be cited as such.

        In the end, it’s multiple sources that are equally as guilty of providing driver distraction, and it’s the driver who decides to LET these items be the source of the distraction.

      • 0 avatar

        Did you even RTFA? Why would a government funded laboratory spend millions of dollars researching text patterns of distracted drivers? Why didn’t they study latte-drinking or girl-staring if those were equally as likely to cause a distraction? Am I missing something?

        You site 1 study as gospel and think you’ve made a point? I could probably find 500 studies claiming the opposite but I won’t waste our time since you don’t seem to be swayed by facts including those discussed in the article above.

        Re-allocate resources and change laws on a whim? That’s a nice bit of hyperbole. These statistics are already tracked and there is no legal precedent to prevent a cop from from examining a phone if he suspects it to be evidence in a crime. No laws need be changed or constitutions amended.

        My guess is that you think this is all a lot of hype and a big conspiracy; a government conspiracy even since it seems to be party to these wildly inaccurate studies and findings. If that’s the case I say start stockpiling food and ammunition now, things can only go downhill from here.

      • 0 avatar

        “If texting or jabbering on the phone is found to be the root cause of the accident, then it should be cited as such.”

        Texting isn’t the root cause of anything.

        The root cause is with drivers choosing to do things that they shouldn’t do. Drivers who are inclined to do bad things have a tendency to replace one bad behavior with another bad behavior. If they aren’t texting, then they’re doing something else.

        You may as well try to stop obesity by banning chocolate cake. It’s not as if the rotund people of the world would start jogging and eating salad if cake was banned tomorrow.

        Drivers were quite good at finding all kinds ways to be distracted before there were phones. They will continue to find ways to be distracted once texting has been replaced by something else. Distraction wasn’t just invented yesterday, despite what some of you would like to believe.

        “Am I missing something?”

        Pretty much, as I already explained. Perhaps you were too distracted to notice.

      • 0 avatar


        I think you miss my point, it’s not just texting, but any source that is found to be a root cause, then it should be dealt with accordingly, just that texting happens to be a popular way of communicating, if you can call it such for most.

        the fact that you have to physically text a message is one reason why we see this as a potential problem when it comes to driving as it forces one to take one’s eyes off the road to text.

        Now if voice texting were to become a required feature in phones, this might help things, at least to some extent.

      • 0 avatar

        You are right, I must have been too distracted by reasonable, coherent thoughts. Sounds like your arguments have run out of steam and you just want to get in a snarky last word. This topic is getting boring so have at it.

      • 0 avatar

        “Now if voice texting were to become a required feature in phones, this might help things, at least to some extent.”

        If you believe the various phone studies, such as those that come out of the University of Utah, then this won’t matter at all. They find that all phone usage is bad, hands free or otherwise.

        “I think you miss my point, it’s not just texting, but any source that is found to be a root cause, then it should be dealt with accordingly”

        You’re missing my point. Let me try again.

        Crashes are generally caused by people making poor choices and/or doing things that they shouldn’t. Outlawing the devices won’t necessarily make them better drivers.

        If people want to be distracted, then they’ll find ways to be distracted. There isn’t a law or technology device that is going to change that.

        And in any case, it’s a leap in logic to presume that a driver who stops being distracted will necessarily become a better driver. Some of the research would suggest that a driver who puts down his phone will drive faster and make more lane changes, which statistically makes him worse. There are times when a driver who is distracted is better than what he would be otherwise.

      • 0 avatar

        Sorry PCH,

        Texting while driving is considered a poor choice, I don’t care how much you spin it, it’s a poor choice to make.

        I would say that a brief voice activated text message is less of a distraction than doing it with one fingers, eyes fixed on the screen while driving. Especially if the driver says, I can’t text right now and ends the conversation for the time being.

        Sadly, too many people won’t give that up, so the fender benders pile up on a daily basis.

      • 0 avatar

        “Texting while driving is considered a poor choice”

        Nobody said that it was a good choice. Go back and read my comments again. Try to respond to what I’m saying, rather than to what you wish that I was saying.

        “I would say that a brief voice activated text message is less of a distraction than doing it with one fingers”

        If you’re going to hang your hat on research, then you ought to be consistent.

        Phone studies find that all phone usage is bad. Hands free or otherwise, it’s all considered to be an unwelcome distraction.

  • avatar

    I don’t know, I see it all the time, somebody texting and driving all over the road. If I get hit, they’ll be sued, if they hit my family, they’ll need emergency surgery to remove their phone and my work boot from their rectum.
    I really don’t get this whole texting crap anyway, my God, with blue tooth you can just talk aand keep both hands/eyes on the road.

  • avatar
    Joe K

    If texting and driving claims 3.2 million lives a year, then why have the traffic death numbers not gone up by that number?

  • avatar

    No one has mentioned the most disconcerting part of this post – Jack has apparently reproduced…

  • avatar

    I get why texting is the source of the debate, right now on distracted driving However, we’ve had distracted driving for decades, in one form or another, but they, I don’t think have been as prevalent as they are now with things like smart phones with texting features, Pandora likes/dislikes and the other similar apps that vie for attention amongst users. Yes, I have Pandora capability with my new HU, but don’t use it.

    I have a smart phone, but I choose to concentrate on my driving, so I bought an aftermarket head unit that has hands free speakerphone Bluetooth functionality, and a USB port that can play my most oft played CD’s via a thumb drive so I don’t have to fumble for CD’s like in the past (not that I’m getting rid of CD’s, just that in the car, it’s nice not to have to fumble for them while driving solo as I rarely listen to the radio for long periods, and play my mix CD’s almost exclusively) I don’t mind using the occasional CD, but having my most listened to ones on a thumbdrive makes things so much easier to use while driving.

    And it’s nice to punch up a button, either on the face plate, or on the steering wheel (of which My car lacks), which ever is available to initiate the voice commands to initiate a call, or to answer the call. When I do so, the music automatically mutes/pauses as the call is answered or initiated and the other end of the call comes through my car speakers, loud and clear and I can then concentrate on my driving while I chat, usually to discuss a change in route or something like that, but not to just chat for the sake of chatting as I don’t feel the need to call everyone throughout the day and I don’t text all that often, but it does come in handy though.

    A case in point, I was heading to the Washington Coast to good family friend’s beach cabin, and it was taking me MUCH longer than planned to get there due to rush hour traffic, so I received a quick text from my best friend who was already there, which I briefly read, telling me to call the cabin, so I punched up the phone button to initiate the voice commands, told the phone, which was nestled in my cup holder, plugged into the car charger to call the cabin as it was in my phone book, and it did so, and I was able to chat without handling the phone.

    A change in route was discussed, and I bypassed the town of McCleary Washington to make up time by heading almost back to Olympia on US 101, and get turned around at Mud Bay to head west towards Aberdeen/Hoquiam, and ST 109 to the cabin as they all were 4 lane, divided highways with higher speed limits.

    Took all of 5 hours to get there, when it should’ve taken no more than 3.5-4 hrs.

    And I was able to concentrate on my driving, which I felt to be important. Sadly so many don’t see it that way.

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