Understanding the parent power behind texting while driving: There is an app for that

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Cyber Safety for Kids and Families with Joanna and Jodie on The Fish Family Morning Show 103.9FM

Erik Wood, of Seattle, Washington, developed and launched OtterApp, a text life management application in 2010 after his three-year-old was nearly killed by a woman texting while driving. OtterApp enables families to manage their text life in ways that put the individual in charge of the device, not the other way around.

Texting and driving is a natural response to a very compulsive temptation. There is science behind the fact that cyber powered communications inspire the same addiction as drugs or alcohol.

A recent article shared by a Banana Moments contributor, Erik Wood, President of Otter App, a text life management app, describes how adults are doing what we expect teens not to do. Texting while driving is not a teenage problem; it is a human problem with all drivers of all ages.

Wood developed OtterApp after his three-year-old daughter was nearly killed by a woman who was texting while driving. “She looked like a pillar of the community and she was completely oblivious to what she was doing behind the wheel,” Wood said. “And so I realized this was going to be a serious problem. We needed to find a better way to manage the texting tool so we can be safe.” OtterApp enables the user to quickly set “driving mode” which sends automatic replies to texts saying you are driving and will get back to the person texting you. The app also enables you to establish times when the device goes into silent and auto-reply for doing homework, dinner hour, etc.

Recently, Alaska updated its driving while texting law because it was ambiguous. It is difficult to keep up with the technology and the ways people wind up being distracted by it.  And it is perhaps tempting to look to legislation to be the change we need to see for safe teen driving.

Wood’s philosophy is that it is better to put the person in control of the device, rather than relying only upon legislation outlawing distracted driving. It is not enough to pass more laws.

I agree it is not enough to keep writing and updating legislation, which brings up the following considerations for parents:

  • The laws will never keep up with all the ways our vehicles will offer distractions – look at what the automotive industry is doing with the dashboards; look at Google glass.
  • Whether it is driving or friendships, don’t let the technology distract you and your family from the things that really matter. I had a professor once who said, “Wherever you are, be there.” Yes. Good advice. Be present in the moment. If you are behind the wheel driving, be fully present behind the wheel driving.
  • How many of us busy, harried parents are multi-tasking in the car? Is there peace in your car when you are driving? What is the example we are setting for our children. They listen more to what they witness us doing than what we tell them to do.
  • Be the example. We need the laws to reflect the norms for what is safe, yes. But the protection we seek for our children comes from being good drivers ourselves and paying attention.
  • By the same token, it stands to reason that parents really are the example, especially when it comes to the level of self discipline required to refrain from texting while driving. It is a matter of being mindful, and making the commitment to be focused on driving while you are behind the wheel. If there is something truly urgent, then pull over and park the car safely to conduct your texting.

You drive the technology, not the other way around

Check out Otter App for a text life management tool that will help you and your children establish control over the impact the device has on your lives as individuals and as a family.

Just for fun

Sit down with your teen and check out this video about how the internet and cyber technology can take over our lives. You may find it sparks some great conversations about who is in charge. You or the device? Behind the wheel, and in life.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5


Joanna Jullien
(Photo: Christi Benz)

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.

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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna (jullien@surewest.net) and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.