“It’s really about convenience,” Kovarik said. “The way people use our app right now is they use it before they travel. They’re still trying to decide, ‘should I drive or fly?’”
There’s an app for almost any everyday function, and automobile travel is no exception. But the creators are being forced to address questions about safety and distracted driving when those apps compel users to pick up a phone while on the road.
TrafficTalk , also based in Great Falls, has grappled with the issue once already.
Founded in 2006 under a different name, the company operates hotlines for motorists to hear traffic reports filed by other drivers. Today, all of the motorists in its marketing materials sport Bluetooth headsets.
But chief executive Larry Greenfield said the application’s next incarnation — set to hit the market in early 2012 — will bypass Bluetooth and allow the person to engage with a smartphone app that reads the traffic reports aloud.
“We want this to be a hands-free application,” Greenfield said. “In today’s world of smartphone apps, the traffic apps all have a distraction factor, and we’re all trying to address that as best we can.”
Cost2Drive’s demographic of mobile users likely will continue to climb as the young firm rebrands itself as Cartripper.com in the coming months and rolls out additional features aimed at drivers while en route.
“Currently, because we are more in the trip-planning phase, it’s not a big deal, but as we migrate into the journey, it’s something we have to message pretty clearly,” Kovarik said.
Many states have cracked down on mobile phone use behind the wheel. Locally, the District and Maryland have banned the use of handheld devices to call or text. Virginia has banned texting for all drivers and handheld calls for those younger than 18.
Even as app makers look to mitigate the risks, other businesses have emerged to stamp it out entirely by rendering devices incapable of receiving calls or e-mail.
Zoomsafer takes that approach.
The Herndon-based firm, which raised $1.1 million from investors earlier this year, outfits a company’s vehicle fleet and mobile phones with software that controls how the driver can use his or her device while in motion.
The company was founded in 2009 after chief executive Matt Howard nearly killed a 9-year-old boy while fiddling with his phone behind the wheel. Zoomsafer later shifted its focus to the business market because ordinary customers were difficult to attract and make profitable, he said.
Howard recognizes that a complete ban on cell phone use while driving would be impractical and difficult to enforce. Yet as smartphones proliferate and cars come loaded with mobile technology, the issue is likely to grow.
“The only question now becomes, what are we going to do as consumers or as employers to balance the use of these devices while driving?” Howard said.
“You can pass all the laws you want. You can tell people it’s a bad idea. But what we know is when you’re there behind the wheel of your car, left to your own devices, and your phone beeps, it’s very hard to put it down and not reply.”