Several software developers have announced products to reduce the risks and temptations by limiting a cell phone’s functions when moving.
iSpeech has taken a different strategy toward reducing risks by developing a new, mobile phone application that can translate incoming messages from text to speech. Called DriveSafe.ly, the free beta application will be available in production form for BlackBerry and Android devices this Wednesday, with iPhone and Windows Mobile versions to follow. (Listen to a sample.)
When activated, DriveSafe.ly reads text messages and e-mails aloud as they are received, either through the phone’s speaker or through a Bluetooth connection. It sends an auto-response to alert the sender that the recipient is driving, though the message will be read. The free version features a female voice reading up to 25 words, though there may be verbal ads included. It does recognize common abbreviations such as “BTW” and “LOL.”
A premium version will be offered for a one-time $13.95 fee, or $3.95 monthly subscription, that eliminates the ads and can read up to 500 words. It also includes a choice of male or female voices. Company officials suggest that future versions may include the ability for the software to change voices based on the sender’s name.
The program doesn’t provide a means to respond hands-free, though iSpeech representatives have indicated that a dictation feature may be added down the road that can turn the driver’s spoken words into text.
Ford’s Sync system currently offers similar capabilities, including reading incoming voice messages and allowing you to send limited brief replies. It requires a compatible phone – and of course, buying a different car.
Will these systems improve safety? So far the research is inconsistent. A body of simulator-based studies comparing hands-free cell phone use to the visual tasks of operating a phone while driving suggests the conversation is as distracting as the dialing. On the other hand, naturalistic studies (recording real drivers in real cars in the real world) suggest that the discussion is much less distracting than having your eyes off the road for an extended time. Systems like SYNC and iSpeech aim to keep your eyes on the driving rather than on your phone.
We will evaluate DriveSafe.ly and other texting solutions as they become available.Jeff Bartlett