In March, four Democratic U.S. Senators, Harry Reid, D-Utah, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., drafted a letter requesting that Apple, Google and Research in Motion (or RIM) eliminate the applications (user-friendly computer programs for specific tasks) on mobile communication devices that warn drivers of the locations of drunk-driving checkpoints.
The next day, RIM, the manufacturer of the BlackBerry agreed to the removal of driving-under-the-influence (DUI/DWI) checkpoint functionality on its BlackBerry devices.
Google later responded that it did not remove apps for any reason other than violations of the Android content policies.
Apple did not issue a public response to the request.
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PhantomALERT Checkpointer Mr. DUI Buzzed Fuzz Alert
These apps, which work on smartphones and most GPS devices, provide alerts to warn drivers of impending speed traps, red-light cameras, railroad crossings and school zones.
Many of the programs use reports from other drivers to maintain the currency of the information. The DUI/DWI checkpoint warnings, however, sparked the interest of the senators who noted in their letter to the tech companies:
“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.”
Are All of These Apps Bad?
The USA Today story that first brought the apps to the attention of the senators, mentions that not all law enforcement sees these warnings as a bad thing. USA Today quotes Officer Brian Walters from Virginia Beach, Va., who is responsible for the city’s red-light camera program, felt the applications might be helpful: “I’m all for them,” he says.
“A couple of GPS companies have sent me requests to verify and validate where our cameras are. I helped them.” He says the devices and apps make drivers more aware while driving. “If that’s what gets them to comply, that’s fine,” he says.
The story also quotes a driver who thinks using his GPS with the PhantomAlert app makes him a better driver because the alerts force him to pay better attention to his driving and his surroundings.