By Richard Read January 26, 2012

We’ve seen a lot of tools meant to curb distracted driving, but they’ve all had their share of flaws. A new system called Cellcontrol looks better than most — in part because of its unique, clever design.

Like, PhoneGuard, and SafeCell, Cellcontrol relies an app, which works on most of today’s smartphones. (Most, but not all. We’ll get to that in a minute.)

What makes Cellcontrol different, though, is that it also comes with a bit of hardware that plugs into a vehicle’s on-board diagnostic port, or OBD-II. The device is about the same size and shape of the one that Progressive uses for its Snapshot program. Once attached, it communicates with associated smartphones using Bluetooth — though thankfully, it doesn’t actually require a pairing of the phone and the OBD-II device.

This addresses a major flaw that’s plagued other distracted driving apps — namely, their inability to tell when someone is driving a vehicle or just a passenger. Install Cellcontrol in your teen’s car and on her phone, and it’ll work like a charm when she’s behind the wheel. However, when she’s riding in a different vehicle — probably as a passenger — the app remains off, allowing her to text and email as usual. The same is true when she rides a bus or takes a train. Ultimately, this makes the app less of a nuisance for users, which in turn means that they’re less likely to disable or uninstall it.

What’s more, Cellcontrol can be configured to allow drivers a limited degree of mobile phone use. So, for example, parents can set up an approved list of phone numbers from which teens can receive calls behind the wheel. There’s also an option to allow phone functionality so long as the phone is paired with a hands-free headset. And of course, 911 calls can be made at any time, even when a vehicle is in motion.

That said, Cellcontrol isn’t perfect.

When mom and dad are doing the driving and junior’s in the backseat, his phone is going to be disabled. That’s going to encourage him to find ways around the software — for example, by disabling Bluetooth on his phone. Cellcontrol says that its app prevents any disabling of Bluetooth, but we have a feeling that the company means “while a vehicle is in motion”. Even so, there are plenty of apps that can override Bluetooth functionality.

Cellcontrol Comment:

How we prevent the disabling of Bluetooth varies with the phone operating system. In all cases, Bluetooth will be re-enabled to use the phone and a violation (notification) will be sent to the administrator/parent. Regardless of what the teen does the system and the parent will make sure that Bluetooth is not disabled.

There’s also the problem of the OBD-II device, which is Cellcontrol’s key selling feature. Given the increasing number of auto insurers who use OBD-II plug-ins to monitor customers’ driving habits, parents may have to choose between keeping an eye their teen’s driving or preventing him from texting behind the wheel, since OBD-II ports can accommodate only one plug-in at a time.

Cellcontrol Comment:

We are working with a number of insurance companies to become an added component Insurance OBD programs. To support these relationships we have several versions available to work in concert with an existing solution or be integrated with the solution.

But the biggest problem with Cellcontrol is that it’s not available for the iPhone. Android, Blackberry, and Windows handsets are covered, but not the ones from Cupertino. Given the huge sales numbers Apple announced earlier this week, that could be a real problem if Cellcontrol’s code monkeys don’t get cracking on an iOS-compatible app ASAP.

Cellcontrol Comment:

We are working diligently to support iOS. Submit your name and we can notify you when it comes available.

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