FAU alumni Joseph Riano was getting on the southbound I-95 ramp off of Glades Road, ready to begin a trip to Miami.
And then his cellphone went off.
The text, he said, was from a very important client who needed him to respond right away.
Should he pull over, answer the text, and try to get back on the highway in rush hour traffic? Or ignore the text and his client?
“I thought to myself,” Riano said. “‘Wouldn’t it be nice if I could let this person know that I was driving without having to touch the phone?’” So he came up with an application called Free Safe Text.
Free Safe Text acts like a voicemail for text messages and prevents the temptation to respond while driving. The app silences all incoming text messages and automatically responds with generic ones such as “I’ll respond ASAP” or “I’m driving.” It can also turn on when a car reaches 10 mph, according to the app fact sheet on freesafetext.com.
The app helps drivers kick the deadly habit of texting while driving and has grabbed the attention of NBC, Sun Sentinel, AutoNation and most recently, former FAU head football coach and current ambassador-at-large Howard Schnellenberger.
He thinks that students have a problem with texting and driving. “Joe [Riano] has provided an opportunity to cure this major disease in society,” Schnellenberger said. “It became very obvious to me that this app was something very special.”
After meeting at a Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce breakfast last May, Riano convinced Schnellenberger to promote Free Safe Text.
“In the first 15 minutes of our conversation,” Schnellenberger said. “It became obvious to me that [this app] was something very special.”
He believes as an ambassador to the university, he can get the message out to students. “I don’t text,” Schnellenberger said. “My wife texts, but she doesn’t text me.”
Some students agree that the temptation to answer a text becomes distracting and dangerous. “When you have an alert about a message,” Feglynn Jean-Baptiste, a senior biology major, said. “You automatically want to answer it.”
Riano created the app with students in mind, asking FAU Student Government for feedback along the way. He decided that a reward system would encourage students to use the app. The way this program works is Riano pays the top user of the week $25 out of his pocket. He plans to introduce a point system where students can earn rewards like free food and prizes from companies that advertise with the app.
“I think it’s a great idea,” SG President Robert Huffman said. “One of our roles is to ensure the safety of our students. Any resource we can use to make safety easier for students is really important.”
Huffman is aware that many students, including himself, have a problem with texting and driving, which is why he says SG plans to promote the app and encourage students to download and use it.
“We’re all young, we all have phones, we’re all driving to and from campus,” Chris Daughtery, a senior electrical engineering major, said. “I think the app would work.”
Riano and Schnellenberger plan to promote the app to college campuses everywhere. “The students of FAU have been instrumental in providing us with feedback,” Riano said. “I think FAU will be the model for other universities.”
Free Safe Text is currently available on the Android market, and an edition for iPhone is expected by the end of the year, according to Riano.
“This is an issue all over the world,” Schellenberger said. “And FAU is going to be the first university to step forward.”
Texting and Driving Facts
Approximately 1.3 million accidents last year were caused by texting and driving.
34 percent of Americans admit to texting behind the wheel.
55 percent of young adults claim that it is easy to text and drive.
While Florida currently has no ban on texting and driving, House Bill 79 was introduced in the Florida legislature earlier this year. The bill died in committee, even though 70 percent of Florida voters supported a law that creates a penalty for texting and driving.
Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves.
Sources: textinganddrivingsafety.com, www.distraction.gov
You don’t say
You Don’t Say Texting“Students will still look at their phone, even with the app.” —Jordan Horner, junior neuroscience major. Photo by Michelle Friswell.
You Don’t Say Texting“Definitely. In our generation, you need to quickly respond, so it’s easier because the app does it for you.” —Morgan Grodesky, sophomore biology/pre-med major. Photo by Michelle Friswell.
You Don’t Say Texting“No, I don’t think students would use it. I think they’re too goddamn lazy.” —Jordan Batt, freshman biology/pre-med major. Photo by Michelle Friswell.
You Don’t Say Texting“Why not? There are no cons to it. For me, I can’t text and drive at the same time. I think [the app] is amazing.” —Luckas Torfs, junior studio art/art history major. Photo by Michelle Friswell.
You Don’t Say Texting“Absolutely. They would use it because it is a great tool. And a lot of times, you don’t want to text and drive, but you don’t want to offend the person who is texting you.” — Sarah Bennari, senior finance major. Photo by Michelle Friswell.
You Don’t Say Texting“I think most students probably wouldn’t use it because they don’t think texting and driving is a problem.” —Anne-Elie Etienne, senior psychology major. Photo by Michelle Friswell.