How apps aim to make you a better driver

How apps aim to make you a better driver
aut smart phone apps

aut smart phone apps

Do you remember KITT, the talking car from the hit ’80s TV show, “Knight Rider”?

A computer with artificial intelligence controlled KITT and helped main character Michael Knight apprehend the bad guys.

Jamyn Edis, founder of the Dash smartphone car app, hopes his new technology makes every car a “smart car” like KITT by allowing them to communicate driving behaviors through smartphones, via Bluetooth.

And, yes, like KITT, some of the data is reported by voice — through the smartphone.

Apps track your driving

“It encourages people to be better drivers,” says Edis, who launched the New York-based app in February. “It scores your driving out of 100 (points). It measures hard brakes, speeds and idling.”

Companies such as Dash and Automatic, another popular car app, use technology similar to that of large insurance companies that track driving habits and offer discounts for good driving. The information is essentially the same as what mechanics see when they plug into your car’s engine management system to obtain readings.

Related: Do Car Tracking Devices Infringe on Privacy?

Dash and Automatic — as well as several other similar apps on the market — use small devices that plug into the car’s on-board diagnostics II port located under the dashboard to connect to the engine management system.

The devices record driving habits in real time, such as braking and over-acceleration. The Dash app, for example, alerts drivers to issues with the car, determines the severity of the problem and the approximate cost to fix it at a local mechanic.

“At the end of each trip, you get a report,” Edis says.

The app, which is available on various smartphones, will also show the location of the nearest gas stations and the cheapest prices.

Automatic, which also scores your driving with a number, tracks rough braking, wear-and-tear of brake pads and rapid acceleration, among other measures.

When the “check engine light” comes on, for example, the app diagnoses the problem and proposes a likely repair. Officials with Automatic were not available for comment.

Saving money on gas

Because the technology rewards safe driving, it can also save money.

“We believe that we can use technology to improve safety and the environmental impact of driving, all while saving drivers money,” Edis says.

Edis adds the average American spends about $10,000 on driving costs each year. Driving in a safe manner can save up to 15 to 20 percent on fuel costs ($5 to $15 per tank), repairs and maintenance, Edis says.

The app alerts drivers when their driving habits cause subpar gas mileage.

The Dash app also has a social aspect allowing users to compare their scores via Facebook and other social media sites with friends and family.

It’s free to download the apps, but the device to hook into the OBDII port costs $10 for Dash, and $99.95 for Automatic.

Reaction from mechanics

Jack Bulko, owner of highly rated AutoAid & Rescue in Van Nuys, Calif., says auto apps shouldn’t take the place of an auto mechanics.

“From my point of view as a shop owner, the information related to the check engine light codes is incomplete without the proper diagnosis from a professional,” he says. “It seems like this is probably geared toward a certain crowd and could be useful for those individuals. Anyone else that doesn’t have the desire or the time to work on their own cars or break down the analytics likely won’t waste their time.”

Ken Sterling, owner of highly rated Horizon Auto Center in Rockwall, Texas, sees benefits to receiving alerts from the app, but also adds that only a trained mechanic should determine the real issue.

“Anything that brings attention to a potential problem is good if the driver actually acts on it,” Sterling says. “... I like the idea that a problem, or potential problem, is being identified by an active alert versus a passive alert. My big problem with this type of system is that it is a distraction to the driver. As long as the driver is not distracted, any notice is good, but there is a risk.”

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Could your smartphone be key to helping you be a better driver? (Photo courtesy of John B. of Syosset, N.Y.)
Could your smartphone be key to helping you be a better driver? (Photo courtesy of John B. of Syosset, N.Y.)

Let your phone help you with your car and driving. Smartphone apps are available that promise to help you become a better, safer and more fuel-efficient driver.

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