Driving while talking on the phone is as good as driving drunk in terms of reaction time, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Last year there were 3,000 fatal traffic accidents caused by distracted driving. Several states and cities have opted to combat the problem by limtiing or prohibiting talking on the phone and text messaging while behind the wheel.

University researchers also are working on deterrents that are built into the phones themselves. Engineers at Rutgers University in New Jersey and the Stevens Institute of Technology developed a mobile app to reduce driver distraction.

Rutgers says the app works by first determining which seat in the car the user is sitting in by using a stereo sound system equipped with Bluetooth. If the user is in the front passenger seat, the phone works normally. If the user is sitting in the driver’s seat, the phone’s behavior profile changes. When the app is activated, the phone can silently forward incoming calls and texts for later retrieval, automatically respond with an “I am driving” message, and make exceptions for urgent calls or texts. For outgoing communication, texting can be disabled, but calling could be made less difficult by simplifying the phone’s interface or by displaying a large-font list of often-called contacts.

You can’t force people not to use their phones, but many people can’t resist the urge to pick up the phone when they hear a text chime, said Marco Gruteser, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rutgers. This app is for the responsible driver who can’t resist the temptation. “We’re making it easier for people who want to drive less distracted,” he said.

For more detail about the app, visit the Rutgers University website.