Using SmartPhone While DrivingSmart phone apps seem to have taken over the world, appearing in every industry and performing more and more tasks for smart phone users. As the world becomes used to thinking “there’s an app for that,” the auto industry has taken the initiative in adding apps directly to vehicles to perform various tasks for drivers.

Ideally, smart phone apps for cars would make vehicles safer, but some experts are concerned that increasing reliance on smart phone apps may actually put drivers in danger. While the subject of smart phone apps in vehicles continues to stir controversy, vehicle manufacturers continue to add apps to new models in the hope of attracting buyers.

What Types of Smart Phone Apps Are Available for Cars?
Smart phone apps for vehicles can be divided into several categories. Each category includes a variety of apps that perform certain types of functions, such as:

  • Entertainment Apps – One category of apps for vehicles deals with entertainment, primarily music. These apps range from those that integrate the smart phone with the car’s entertainment system to those that project information on to the car’s windshield to cut down on drivers removing eyes from the road.
  • Avoidance System Apps – Certain smart phone apps can use the phone’s camera to predict certain issues such as obstacles in the road, pulling too close to other vehicles or even “blind side” approaching cars.
  • Parking Apps – Certain new apps can help the car park automatically or assist the driver in parking in tight spaces.
  • Social Media – Many car apps allow users to connect with friends through social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other programs.
  • Computer System Apps – Some apps hook directly into a car’s computer system to assist drivers in collecting data about the car’s performance. Depending on the app, this performance data may be available in real time or may be stored for future use.
  • Safety Apps – Certain apps are designed to help drivers access their vehicles safely or call for help when they need assistance. These apps often enable drivers to make a call for assistance or even call automatically if the driver is unable to access the app. These apps may also be downloaded onto a smart phone to unlock or lock car doors and for other purposes.

Luxury or Danger?
The advent of smart phone apps for cars seems to be a great thing, but are they entirely safe? This question has haunted experts for some time given the fact that so many accidents are due to distraction from talking or texting on these very phones.

According to government statistics, ten percent of all crashes involving injuries in 2011 were reported to be due to distracted driving. More than 3,300 people died in these crashes and more than 387,000 were injured. However, many experts feel these numbers underreport the problem as drivers are not likely to confess to distracted driving and police do not have uniform procedures for coding and reporting distracted driving crashes.

Assuming that the problem is larger than the numbers indicate, some experts believe that the addition of a greater number of smart phone apps to a car’s lineup may increase the danger of distraction. Others state that it is possible that the addition of smart phone apps may actually make drivers safer by helping them avoid dangers on the road.

Can Smart Phones Make Safer Drivers?
Apps that work to prevent accidents, such as the ones that warn drivers when they approach another car too closely, may well be responsible for lower numbers of accidents. There are also apps that parents can use to help teens stay focused on the road. Teens represent the largest group of distracted drivers; in 2011, 21 percent of all drivers age 15 to 19 involved in fatal crashes were using cell phones at the time.

Some apps, such as “Text Arrest,” disable texting if the car is traveling more than 5 miles per hour. Others, such as “Safe Driver,” report teens’ driving habits back to parents. These types of apps are being touted as safety measures that keep parents abreast of teen’s driving skills. However, they are not the same as apps that actually control the vehicle.

There is not enough evidence at this point to say that the next group of smart phone apps will make cars safer. As with anything, the more drivers come to rely on technology the weaker their own skills will be. One possible danger in using smart phone apps is that if the app malfunctions, the driver may not be aware of the danger until too late to prevent an accident.

The new generation of car apps will become more powerful and will likely have more ability to control the car remotely. As this happens, experts will continue to study the impact of smart phone apps and how they benefit drivers as well as how they may contribute to distracted driving or other types of crashes.