Soon after smartphones became popular, their owners downloaded apps to check traffic reports and avoid tie-ups. Now the phones are providing more real-time traffic information that some say may make driving less safe.
Last month, four U.S. senators asked Apple, Google and Research in Motion (R.I.M.) to remove from their online stores apps that help drunk drivers avoid sobriety checkpoints.
R.I.M., the maker of BlackBerrys, pulled the apps the day after the senators made their request. Apple and Google didn’t, according to an article in The New York Times.
Google says the apps don’t violate the company’s policies. Apple hasn’t commented on the senators’ request.
The apps don’t do anything illegal. So what’s the problem? Police say the apps may actually increase drunk driving.
Law enforcement agencies say sobriety checkpoints deter drunk driving.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the checkpoints typically reduce alcohol-related crashes by about 20%. That was in 2002 before the checkpoint apps existed.
In 2009, 10,839 people were killed by alcohol-impaired drivers. That was about a third of all traffic fatalities that year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
One of the apps pulled by R.I.M. was PhantomAlert. The company’s CEO, Joseph Scott, defended sobriety checkpoint alerts as a convenience for law-abiding motorists who don’t want to be delayed.
When it first arrived on the scene, PhantomAlert listed sobriety checkpoints in a community without noting pinpoint locations. Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for Virginia State Police quoted in the Times article, said listing communities with DUI checkpoints could deter someone from driving drunk. Therefore the department was OK with the original concept.
However, Geller says the pinpoint reports allow drunk drivers to get in a car and avoid the checkpoints.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving agrees that there’s a difference between a broad announcement about DUI checkpoints and pinpoint locations.
Scott is now offering to suspend real-time reports of sobriety checkpoints.
As of the writing of this post, PhantomAlert was available in the Android App Store.
In the app store, PhantomAlert described itself as the “largest driver generated and verified database of speed traps, red light cameras, speed cameras, schools zones + dangerous intersections.” The description also contained several positive testimonials from police departments, some of which appeared to approve of listing DUI checkpoint campaigns.
PhantomAlert’s webpage also mentions DUI checkpoints. Similar apps include Trapster and Buzzed.
Should app stores refuse to carry the DUI checkpoint apps? Should the apps list exact checkpoint locations or just note that a community is conducting them at a particular time? Do you use any cell phones apps to improve workplace safety? Let us know in the Comments Box below.