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States Targeting Drunken Driving With Smartphone Apps

California partners with popular app company in hopes of thwarting drunken driving.

by / May 4, 2010

As citizens' reliance on smartphone applications continues to soar, a few government agencies and citizen coders have found them to be a promising way to curb drunken driving.

Two recent examples are an iPhone app called R-U-Buzzed released by the Colorado Department of Transportation that estimates blood-alcohol content, and a mash-up program called Stumble Safely created during the Apps for Democracy contest that gives Washington, D.C., pedestrians a safe route home after a night at the bar.

California's Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) is the latest to try a similar approach, by partnering with the wildly popular Taxi Magic app team to promote sober designated drivers -- a cab driver in this case. California announced the partnership Monday, May 3.

"It gives those who need to get someplace when they've had too much to drink an easy way to do it," said California OTS Spokesman Chris Cochran. "It's one more tool in the anti-DUI [driving under the influence] tactics we have."

The free Taxi Magic app was released in January 2009, and has become one of the top downloaded apps in Apple's iTunes store. At its best -- if users are in a metropolitan area where the service is available -- the app's "Magic Book" feature allows them to tap one button that phones the cab company and arranges pick-up location details.

"The technology takes care of everything else for you," Cochran said. "All you have to do is get in the taxi when it arrives."

The state agency's partnership with Taxi Magic came at zero cost, Cochran said, and fits with its mission -- to encourage designated drivers and safe driving. "We like each other and are going to promote each other," he said. "In the end, it helps the celebrating public more than anyone else."

The California OTS is the first state agency the company has partnered with, which Taxi Magic did to promote safety, said company Spokesman Jay McClary.

"While the public is aware of the dangers of DUI, they still can find themselves in situations where a designated sober driver is not available," an OTS press release stated. "Where previously calling a cab might have been intimidating, embarrassing or bothersome, this latest technology can make it as easy as one tap on your cell phone screen."

While the California Highway Patrol (CHP) can't endorse products and CHP Spokeswoman Fran Clader wouldn't comment about the application, the agency promotes designated driving in many forms. "If you do plan to go out and drink, we advise getting a designated driver or calling a taxi, arranging for some other transportation or staying where you are -- anything other than getting on the road while drinking," Clader said.

California Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Los Angeles and Ventura counties chapter Affiliate Executive Director Tina Pasco said the anti-drunk driving nonprofit has no position regarding the issue of states partnering with and creating apps that promote alternatives to such behaviors.

The app's utility goes beyond hailing a cab after drinking too much, and can also be useful to tourists or anyone otherwise needing a driver. "If they sign up for the app and live in New York and come to San Francisco ... they can still push the button and get local service," Cochran said. "It's a nationwide app, so no matter where they live, it's going to be available to them in one form or another anywhere."


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Karen Wilkinson

Karen is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.

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