Smartphone software applications, or "apps," are all the rage right now in North Carolina and throughout the entire nation. So much so, that multiple companies have taken steps to develop applications to alert drivers of intersections with red light cameras, the location of speed traps and DWI checkpoints. The creators of these apps maintain their purpose is to get drivers thinking twice about drunk driving, but a group of U.S. senators is not convinced.
Earlier this week, four senators from states across the nation collectively sent letters to Google, Apple and Research in Motion (RIM) asking that they pull certain "DWI apps" from their inventory, as they believe such Smartphone programs encourage drunk driving. It would be interesting to know what event(s) spurred these Senators to take action earlier this week, as such apps have been in existence in various forms since 2008.
Law enforcement officials maintain that DWI/DUI checkpoints are never operated in secret. While they aren't necessarily opposed to the elimination of drunk driving checkpoint locator apps, they don't believe the apps are the problem, rather just another manifestation of a larger issue society has with driving under the influence.
For just $4.99, currently anyone can purchase "Checkpointer" from the Apple App store, "Checkpoint Wingman" and "Buzzed" for less than that, and "Mr. D.U.I." or "Tipsy" for free. Though these free apps will alert you of DUI checkpoints and even estimate your BAC level based on weight, number of drinks consumed and time span consumed within, their ultimate purpose is to get you in touch with a DUI lawyer should you get pulled over while intoxicated.
As a result of the senators' letter, "PhantomAlert," the most robust and expensive of all such apps, was suspended from sale by RIM this week, though current users of the app appear to be unaffected as of yet. Google made note that policies concerning software run on their Android platform appear not to have been violated by the makers of these drunk driving apps. Apple had yet to make a public response to the senators' letter as of late Wednesday.
It will be interesting to see if lawmakers will pursue this matter further with actual legislation as well as how much of a factor public opinion and popularity of these apps will play in swaying their decision to act or not.
- The New York Times, Wheels blog, "Police-Checkpoint Smartphone Apps Encourage D.U.I., Senators Argue" by John R. Quain 3/23/11
- kwgn.com "Smartphone app helps drunk drivers avoid police" by Nina Sparano 3/24/11