Sprint Fights Distracted Driving

Sprint today introduced a new “anti-distracted” driving service this week, amid growing concerns about phone use in cars.

The Overland Park, Kan.-based carrier said its “Drive First” app aims to reduce distracted driving by redirecting calls to voicemail and blocking text message alerts.

The app detects if a smartphone user is in transit and automatically sends auto-responses notifying people that they are driving. Users can still make 911 emergency calls, and the app allows music and navigation programs to run.

Still, the app can’t tell if a user is driving or just a passenger, and there’s an override button to return the phone to full functionality. Override actions can be tracked by account administrator, such as a parent or employer, through a web portal.

Sprint hopes that Drive First will head off more drastic legislation against the in-car usage of mobile phones, especially as concerns about distracted driving grow.

Celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and government officials such as Transportation Secretary’s Ray LaHood who, along with local legislators, have campaigned to keep phones out of drivers’ hands.

Earlier this month, a Consumer Report indicated 63 percent of respondents under the age of 30 years old said they had used a cellphone while driving in the past month, and 30 percent of them texted during that period. Nearly 1,000 people have been killed in cellphone-related distracted driving accidents in 2009, the last year figures are available, according to the Transportation Department.

In January, T-Mobile announced a similar service called “DriveSmart.” AT&T is reportedly considering a similar product, while Verizon markets a block-while-driving service to commercial customers.

Sprint will begin preloading Android devices with Drive First later this year. The service will cost $2 a month per device.

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