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Tweeting/Texting your travel status “safely”

November 3rd, 2010 · 5 Comments · Personal

Okay, right off the bat with the disclaimer – doing anything while driving besides paying attention to the road is dangerous. You, the driver, are responsible for the safety of yourself and any occupants in the vehicle and as such need to have your full attention given to avoiding obstacles and navigating safely on our congested roadways (with the assumption that everyone else is a horrible driver out to get you).

Now, that all said, no one really does this completely. Even if we didn’t have mobile phones to text/talk on, there’s still applying makeup, singing with our heads bobbing all around, switching CDs/tapes, fiddling with the stereo, talking to our passengers, eating, etc etc.

I’ll further assuage those vehemently opposed to cell phone use in cars by linking to – a site dedicated to informing people about the dangers of distracted driving.

Okay that’s all out of the way – let’s get down to the purpose of this post. Say you’re about to embark on a long road trip across several states and want to keep family informed of your progress. Simple updates like “I am now entering Virginia” sent to your loved ones when you reach certain points in your trip can help keep them from worrying about your safety. Problem is, if you don’t pull over to type out these little messages, you’re likely to end up never sending them because you’ve driven off a cliff (exaggeration – possibly).

So okay, a lot of us like to just keep on trucking and don’t want to bother with stopping or waiting for the next rest stop. If you’re one of those people, like me, then here’s what you can do to make this process go a lot easier.

(Optional) Step 1: Register a account

If you want to tweet and not just text an individual, I use this great service called which allows you to post to several dozen social services all at once. I only utilize a small few like twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc but you have a ton of options. One of the other cool things about is that you’re not constrained to using the web interface to post an update – you can also do so through IM, email and SMS text messaging. We’re going to leverage the SMS feature so after creating your account add your mobile phone number. Standard messaging rates apply.

Step 2: Switch on Airplane Mode

I use an iPhone. So if you have a different phone I’m afraid you will have to try to adapt these instructions to your device. The iPhone has an Airplane Mode in its main Settings menu that disables all communications signals – most notably here is our cellular network connection. We want that off.

Step 3: “Send” your status updates

In case it’s not clear, you’re still at home at this stage. Decide when you would like to update your family and create the appropriate messages. So if you’re traveling from NJ to SC as I did recently, you might want to say stuff like “passing by DC on the beltway now, hope Stewart’s Rally To Restore Sanity doesn’t mess with *my* sanity” followed by “Made it to Richmond – halfway there!” and so on. As you send each text message your iPhone will tell you the message failed to send and a little red “!” icon will appear next to it. Send out all the updates you want to push out later and then go back into Settings and turn off Airplane Mode – the text updates will not try to send again on their own (I was afraid this would happen but apparently not).

Step 4: Drive on and push through your texts at the appropriate time

While on the road, to update now you simply open up your text messages, tap the red “!” icon and click the “Try Again” button. Since you’re now connected to the cellular network again (unless you happen to be in a no coverage area) the text will send without a problem, will pick it up and propagate it out to your social networks. (Alternatively, these could just be texts straight to another mobile phone!) If you need more social media popularity so you can post more content, you could buy YouTube comments.

Small caveat

It sounds so simple, and I personally equate the act of sending out these texts as similar to fiddling around with your car stereo to find a new station while traveling, or swapping out CDs. But, I travel with my iPhone unlocked and plugged in to a charger, mounted on the dash at the 2 0′ clock position beside my wheel, able to tap the screen and still look outside the window and I’m not holding the phone so I can always immediately grab back onto the wheel.

If you have to dig your phone out of your bag or purse, unlock the phone, navigate screens to get to where your text message app is, and/or if you have to hold the phone in one hand (people generally hold it below the window level of the car so cops don’t see them, which means you’re also looking down away from the road) then you’re significantly diminishing the use of this method.

I would recommend a car mount of some sort and leaving your phone unlocked and accessible (and plugged in so the battery doesn’t drain), mounted high enough so looking at it includes looking out the window.

Dude, there’s an app for that

You’d think, right? If you’ve been reading/skimming this post and thinking “surely there’s an app for that” then you’d be mistaken. I couldn’t find one, my friend (who assured me his Google Fu was strong) couldn’t find one – but if you know of one then I’d like to hear about it. Or if you’re an app developer this is something you may want to consider. Specifically, this app would let you cache up tweets or text messages and then have a simple button to press to send them one by one. You could also have the iPhone send them automatically when the GPS detects you’ve reached a certain point along the drive. With the multi-tasking in iOS4 this would be very powerful.

Is this all really safe?

Well, no. That’s why I quoted “safely” in the post title. As I explained earlier, doing anything besides giving the road your full attention is not considered to be safe driving. I can argue that this method, because it involves minimal interaction with your phone compared to typing out a full message, is “safer” – but it’s not going to convince a cop not to give you a ticket if he catches you doing it. Nor is it going to make anyone feel better if you tell them you were doing it when you hit them.

If you really want to be safe and let your family know how your trip is progressing, just pull over.

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