SafeCell, iZup, Cellcontrol, ZoomSafer: Smartphone apps designed to limit texting behind the wheel

It's estimated half of all teens admit to texting while driving. That's a scary statistic, but for parents some relief may come in the form of new technology.

Heidi Cullinan is a typical parent concerned because her teenage son is learning how to drive. She and many other parents offer this advice to their beginning drivers

"Just not to text and drive. Not to answer your phone. Keep your eyes on the road," said Cullinan.

You're 25 times more likely to crash if you text and drive. To prove the danger, some drivers ed students go through an exercise called "Spot the Hazard." They are told to text on their cell phones while watching a video of a car on the road. They have to look out for hazards like jaywalkers.

"Then we go through the film a second time and they have to discover what they've missed. And a lot of times it's very eye-opening to them," said Jim Werts, a driving instructor.

Students we talked with seemed to get the message.

"It's really interesting because you're texting and you're not watching the road, so you're missing out on pedestrians," said Michelle Birsan, a 16-year-old student.

"I'm already terrified of getting in car accidents, so I probably won't be texting at all," said Kevin Waitrovich, at 16-year-old student.

There are smartphone apps designed to limit texting behind the wheel, like iZup , Cellcontrol , ZoomSafer and SafeCell . They rely on your phone's GPS to calculate your speed. When the car moves, the apps limit your phone's functions.

Consumer Reports checked out several of these apps. They like DriveSafe.ly because it reads text messages to you. You can answer out loud and it sends your message back as a text. It keeps your hands on the wheel, and your eyes on the road.

Overall they thought tXtBlocker was the most effective system. Parents can install it on a teen's phone for $7 a month. When the phone is in a moving car, tXtBlocker blocks any incoming messages and disables the keypad.

All of the apps still allow you to dial 911. They also let you set up certain phone numbers in advance. The ones you program will work, even when everything else is blocked.

John Skelly had never heard of these apps, but liked the idea for his children.

Anything to keep the kids safer. The new technology's the way to go. It's here to stay," said Skelly.

For all drivers, the best and least expensive way to stay safe is to simply turn off your phone when you're in the driver's seat.

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