TORONTO – When first-time developer Zoey McKenzie set out to design an app, she wanted to create a messaging platform that did more for users than what was traditionally available.
Tired of the basic messaging features offered on her iPhone, McKenzie set out to create an app that would allow users to schedule messages in advance and offer a more organized approach to keeping in touch.
But, after incorporating a GPS-based feature that allowed users to schedule messages based on where they were, the Toronto-based developer discovered the app might be a useful tool to combat distracted driving.
“I realized the power of the GPS function after recently losing my dad in a tragic car accident,” McKenzie told Global News.
“People are severely reprimanded for texting and driving – as they should be – but besides being told to resist the urge and not do it; they aren’t being offered any solutions. OMNI is a smart solution that solves that problem.”
At its core, OMNI – currently available for iPhone – is a productivity app that allows users to schedule their text messages to send at a future date and time.
But the app also has a GPS-based scheduling feature, which allows users to program messages to send when they enter or leave a particular location.
So, say for example you want to send your boss a text message to let him know when you will be in the office. You could schedule a text to send when you get to the intersection a block away from your office, without feeling the need to pick up your phone in the car.
According to research, Canadian drivers could benefit from this type of solution.
Earlier this year, a poll from the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) found while 90 per cent of Canadians believe texting and driving is socially unacceptable, 22 per cent still admitted to checking or sending messages while behind the wheel.
The poll also found that Canadians rank texting and driving as their biggest road safety concern – drinking and driving came in second.
And research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that dialing, texting or reaching for a cellphone while driving raises the risk of a crash or near-miss more than sevenfold for younger drivers.
“Right now people are just told not to do it – there is no alternate solution,” McKenzie said.
“So if you need to tell your daughter to make sure she’s outside because you are in a big rush, chances are you are going to pick up the phone and send a text or call her. But if you can set that up earlier in the morning then I think people will opt for that.”
Since OMNI’s release on the Apple App Store, McKenzie has seen users from the UK, India and Australia download the app – however, she noted the app is getting the most use in North America.
Of course, in order to use the GPS-based scheduling feature, users will have to allow the app to detect the phone’s current location – a practice which the privacy weary may shy away from. The app also comes with a disclaimer that explains use of the GPS function may affect your phone’s battery life.
But, McKenzie hopes users will see the benefit of the app’s features.
“Generally people do know the dangers of texting and driving and they want to protect their lives and the lives of other people on the road,” she said.
“That would mean the world to me if I could save a life.”