ALBERTA

Calgary Company Hopes App Will Curb Distracted Driving

02/18/2015 03:24 EST | Updated 04/20/2015 05:59 EDT
CALGARY - An Alberta company hopes a new smartphone app will help so-called nomophobia sufferers who can't put their devices down while behind the wheel.

Nomophobia is the term coined for a fear of being out of mobile phone contact. OneTap is a free app that uses GPS to detect when a person is in a car and manages calls, texts and alerts that could be a distraction while driving.

"Four out of five people will not leave their house without their phone. They will literally stop where they are, go back into their house to go and get their phone and bring it back into their sphere of influence," said Ted Hellard, founder of AppColony, a Calgary-based technology company.

"That's called addiction, call it obsession, call it whatever you want, but bottom line is it is necessary for us."

OneTap has an auto-reply function that replies to calls and texts immediately to let senders know an individual is driving and when the trip is expected to end.

The app kicks in when the GPS detects the phone is moving in a car, but has an option that allows passengers to still send and receive. If a caller texts that a matter is urgent, the app alerts the driver to pull over to accept a phone call.

The app is only available for Android phones, but is to be offered on others later this year.

Hellard said his company was planning to sell the app, but decided to offer it for free. It is supported by the Co-operators insurance company.

"Very rarely in life you get a chance to do something that is win-win, where you can build something that makes business sense, but could actually save some lives," said Hellard, a former co-owner of the Calgary Stampeders football team.

Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson, an outspoken critic of distracted driving, said he endorses the app.

"The carnage that's caused by distracted driving now has, in a number of studies particularly in the U.S., shown to be greater than that caused by impaired driving," Hanson said. "People are dying, people are being hurt needlessly for something that is so preventable."

Hellard acknowledges that some smartphone users are so hard core they likely won't be interested in curtailing their activities. But he is hopeful that many will.

"We're the vast majority. The real, real freakazoids — they're not taking an app down — they don't put their seatbelt on either," Hellard said.

"We want to reach that 80 per cent who actually care, but just don't know how to stop."

Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Also on HuffPost

LOOK: Common Distracted Driving Violations