GCN LAB REVIEWS
Tool can stop texting while driving in its tracks
It is an accepted truth — but one too often ignored — that using a handheld cell phone for any reason is one of the most dangerous things you can do while operating a motor vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that more than 5,000 people in the U.S. died due to distracted driving in 2009. Of those, 995 could be linked directly to cell phone use behind the wheel, and that does not count all the non-fatal accidents across the country.
Recently many efforts have been made to try to limit this practice. Handheld cell phone use while driving has been outlawed in many states. Many government organizations such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have levied steep fines for violation of cell phone use regulations. But these measures will only go so far toward stopping the activity. The temptation of having near-instant information at your fingertips is too great for some people, even while they are driving. So, how could you make sure your policies on the matter are enforced and employees aren’t costing money (or worse) by skirting them?
Cellcontrol, a flexible policy editor, can make vehicular cell phone policy automatically enforceable. It works for any Android or BlackBerry smart phone running Cellcontrol’s proprietary software.
Pros: Effective in locking out cell phone use.
Cons: Setup requires a few extra steps.
Ease of Use: B
Price: $110, includes first year of service ($95 government)
Stop me before I text and drive again!
Highway safety chief: Car not a ‘mobile device’
We found Cellcontrol to be not overly difficult to set up, though there were a few extra steps necessary to get everything up and running. The trigger device had to be plugged into a car’s On-Board Diagnostics port. Most drivers are not familiar with the location of this port, as it is primarily used by technicians when diagnosing service issues. However, we were able to locate it (under the dashboard near the steering wheel) without too much searching.
The use of the OBD port does have a few limitations. First, since the OBD-II port specification wasn’t made mandatory in all automobiles until 1996, you probably wouldn’t be able to install Cellcontrol in a car that is older than that. Second, when the car is taken in for service, you will have to remember to remove the Cellcontrol trigger or risk the mechanics misplacing it. Finally, a user could always remove it from his or her government vehicle to prevent it from signaling the app on a connected phone, though this does generate a violation report. Although these are relatively minor concerns, we felt they were worth pointing out.
Downloading and installing the software on our test BlackBerry phone was easy enough. Afterward, each time we turned on the phone it would ask us if we wanted to enable Bluetooth, which is necessary for Cellcontrol to work properly. If we said “no,” the phone would cease to work. There wasn’t any simple way to get around the software that way.
Setting up triggers
The Policy Dashboard is a Web-based administration interface that allows you to associate certain triggers with certain phones. Here we were able to tweak the policies governing our test trigger/phone pair. We could allow hands-free voice and determine at what point the cell phone actually shuts off. We could even set up blacklists and whitelists of phone numbers for both incoming and outgoing calls.
To see whether Cellcontrol actually enforced our policies and turned the phone off, we were going to have to be using it while the car was in motion. This was easily made safer by having a passenger be the one using the cell phone. We were amazed to verify that the device performed as promised. Once the car was engaged in drive and moving forward a few miles per hour (in our building’s parking garage to make things even safer), the cell phone hung up in the middle of phone calls and exited from all apps and text messaging that were in progress. Any key presses at that point only brought up a lock-out screen. The only exception to this was, according to our policy, dialing 911, which of course we couldn’t test effectively in the field.
So, what if an employee were still determined to risk life and limb and unplugged the trigger? Well, this and other violations will show up in the Policy Dashboard on your admin Web page, so the administrator will at least know when this happens. But it also means that if a passenger is safely using the phone, the Cellcontrol device could simply be unplugged and the phone would work fine, though a violation would still be recorded.
This level of control over an employee’s cell phone activity might be considered draconian, and some may call it an infringement of certain freedoms. We agree that some functions of the policy control, such as the phone number blacklists, might smack of Big Brother, but the functions that prevent use while driving could actually save lives.
Cellcontrol is available for $110 retail and has a government price of $95. These prices include the first full year of service. Additional services cost about $90 per year retail and $75 per year government. We feel these prices are reasonable for the level of service provided.
If you are running a fleet of automobiles and are concerned about driver safety, then Cellcontrol might be the road map you need to get your people home safely.
Greg Crowe is a staff writer covering mobile technology for GCN. Follow him on Twitter: @GCNLabGuys.