Senators Call Out Makers Of Drunk-Driving Checkpoint Apps

After four senators requested that smartphone software vendors to stop selling apps that allow users to report and find drunk-driving checkpoints, the makers of those applications are defending themselves, saying they actually help police, and not drunkies out on the road.

Democratic Senators Harry Reid of Nevada, Charles Schumer of New York, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Tom Udall of New Mexico sent a letter to smartphone software vendors Apple, Google and Research In Motion Tuesday, asking them to stop selling DUI checkpoint apps, reports Computer World.

But companies like PhantomALERT, one of those targeted by the senators, say that the more reports by drivers of those checkpoints, the more likely people are to reconsider drunk driving in the first place.

CEO and founder of PhantomALERT, Joe Scott, calls his product a safety tool He says it often looks like there are more checkpoints than actually exist, so that the app “deters people from drinking and driving. We’re like a force multiplier for them.”

So far, the senators have reported that RIM will remove the apps.

“Drunk drivers will soon have one less tool to evade law enforcement and endanger our friends and families,” the senators said in a statement. “We appreciate RIM’s immediate reply and urge the other smartphone makers to quickly follow suit.”

Another defender of the apps, Morgan Reed, is the executive director of trade group Association for Competitive Technology. He says they are a valuable tool for law enforcement and can also serve to warn drivers of roadway problems such as traffic obstructions.

“While I applaud the senators for seeking to curb drunk driving, their criticism of online travel apps misses the point,” he said. “Law enforcement authorities have embraced these services, expressing their strong approval for products that reduce speeding and improve traffic safety.”

What do you think? Are the apps more likely to help or to harm?

Read the senators’ letter:

March 22, 2011

Eric Schmidt
Chief Executive Officer
Google, Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043

James L. Balsillie and Michael Lazaridis
Research In Motion
295 Phillip Street
Waterloo, Ontario
Canada N2L 3W8

Mr. Scott Forstall
Senior Vice President, iPhone Software
Apple, Inc.
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014

Dear Mr. Schmidt, Balsillie, Lazaridis and Forstall,

We write today with grave concern regarding the ease with which downloadable applications for Apple, Blackberry and Android operating systems for smartphones allow customers to identify where local police officers have set up DUI checkpoints. With more than 10,000 Americans dying in drunk-driving crashes every year, providing access to applications that alert users to DUI checkpoints is harmful to public safety.

We know that your companies share our desire to end the scourge of drunk driving and we therefore would ask you to remove these applications from your store unless they are altered to remove the DUI/DWI checkpoint functionality.

One application contains a database of DUI checkpoints updated in real-time. Another application, with more than 10 million users, also allows users to alert each other to DUI checkpoints in real time.

Police officers from across the country have voiced concern about these products, with one police Captain saying, “If people are going to use those, what other purpose are they going to use them for except to drink and drive?” With a person dying every 50 minutes in a drunk-driving crash, this technology should not be promoted to your customers – in fact, it shouldn’t even be available.

We appreciate the technology that has allowed millions of Americans to have information at their fingertips, but giving drunk drivers a free tool to evade checkpoints, putting innocent families and children at risk, is a matter of public concern. We hope that you will give our request to make these applications unavailable immediate consideration.

Thank you for your prompt and careful consideration of this matter. Should you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact our offices.

Sincerely,

Senator Reid
Senator Schumer
Senator Lautenberg
Senator Udall

Groups defend drunk-driving checkpoint software [Computer World]