RIM drops drink-drive apps after senator complaints

March 24, 2011

RIM drops drink-drive app after senator complaintsResearch In Motion has pulled two BlackBerry applications that warn users of an impending DUI checkpoint after complaints by four senators. But the makers of the apps have defended their use.

The two applications, Trapster (pictured) and PhantomALERT, alert users about a range of traffic events including speed cameras and road hazards. The data comes from a combination of official sources and users, who can post alerts when they come across a check.

Senators Frank Lautenberg, Harry Reid, Charles Schumer and Tom Udall wrote to RIM, Apple and Google urging them to drop the products from official app stores; at the time of writing only RIM has done so. The senators argue that “giving drunk drivers a free tool to evade checkpoints, putting innocent families and children at risk, is a matter of public concern.” That’s disputed by the app developers, who claim police welcome the apps.

The gist of the debate is that the app developers believe knowing about police checks will deter drivers from drink driving or speeding; critics counter that it makes it easier for drivers to break the law and escape detection.

One significant difference that arises when you look at those two points is that while it’s possible knowing about an upcoming checkpoint may persuade a driver to slow down, if a drunken driver gets an alert about a DUI checkpoint while on the road it’s already too late.

The creator of PhantomALERT even claims that the system overstates the actual level of DUI checkpoints, thus adding extra deterrance to would-be drink drivers.

Another point in debate is exactly what the senators will do if Apple and Google don’t comply with their request. Although there are no direct threats in the letter, a spokesman for tech industry group ACT argues that any such request from senators carries the implicit threat of congressional hearings or legislation.

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