Canary App Alerts Parents to Teen’s Distracted Driving

By Jani Spede, COO, The Canary Project

Jeanne Brown suspected that her 17-year-old daughter, Alex was in the habit of texting while driving. But Jeanne had no easy way to confirm her suspicions. On November 10, 2009, Alex died in a single-vehicle crash blamed on distracted driving.

After multiple conversations on the topic, Amos Johnson was convinced that his 16-year-old daughter, Ashley wouldn’t use her cell phone while driving. On May 10, 2010, the car she was driving crossed the centerline and hit a truck head-on, killing her. She was texting at the time of the crash.

What parents have needed is a good way to monitor their teens’ cell phone use. Canary – a new app for the iPhone and Android phones – offers that.

Like the historic canary in a coal mine, the Canary app raises an alarm to parents when their teens are doing dangerous things, such as texting, talking on the phone or using social media while on the road.

Parents receive real-time messages via the app installed on their own phones and by email, with complete details of their teens’ activities – including a list of call volumes, locations and driving speeds – which Canary logs for later review.

Canary doesn’t prevent teens from using their phones. It informs parents – immediately – when they do so while traveling at more than 12 mph. The ideas behind Canary are:

  • Changing behavior of drivers takes much more than a verbal agreement. Parents who have lost children in tragic distracted driving accidents say they harped on the dangers of texting and driving until they were “blue in the face”
  • A proactive tool is needed. Teens are more likely to make safe decisions when they know their parents are watching
  • When parents know, without a doubt, that their teens are engaging in dangerous life-threatening behaviors, they have a chance to correct their teens through whatever actions fit their parenting styles, including temporarily withdrawing car and/or phone privileges and rewarding and incenting safe behavior.

Smartphone developer 52apps, which created Canary, also founded a new initiative, The Canary Project, to increase awareness of the risks of distracted driving, while providing practical ways to eliminate those risks and save lives. Starting in South Carolina – with plans to support national programs – The Canary Project is partnering with organizations such as the National Safety Council, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina and the Remember Alex Brown Foundation, a Texas-based nonprofit organization Alex’s parents founded to educate people about the dangers of texting while driving.

The Canary Project’s plans include:

  • Integration of distracted driving awareness into existing teen driving and safety programs
  • Creation of a distracted driving curriculum for use in driver training courses
  • A traveling high school convocation program
  • Advocacy for legislation to restrict mobile device use while driving
  • Marketing and public service announcements
  • Social media awareness campaigns

A phone in a car with a teen is like a loaded gun. Teens are a hair trigger away from horrific crashes like those that took the lives of Alex, Ashley and far too many other precious loved ones. The Canary Project founders believe that education and awareness, combined with innovative technologies to help parents, will reduce distracted driving deaths and keep our teens safe.

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