Single Mom’s Invention to Stop Teens From Texting While Driving

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Madi Mullins, 15, used to be “awful” with her phone, according to her mother, Lisa Mullins. “It was a consistent issue. She’d be up in her room on FaceTime until 2 a.m. She’d be talking to her friends and downloading all these apps. She just would not put the phone down.”

Lisa, a full-time working single mom, had given smartphones to Madi and her sister, 12-year-old Katie, so that they could all keep in contact when she was at work. And while she wasn’t thrilled about them using the phone so much, she says she didn’t want them to be out of touch with her either, in case, “God forbid, something should happen.” But still, the idea that this distraction would become a driving risk when it came time for Madi to get behind the wheel at 16 terrified Lisa. So the mom took matters into her own hands by developing a pretty amazing — and possibly lifesaving — app.

ParentBlocked, which costs $1.99 a month, allows adults to “ground” a child’s smartphone, so to speak, and to block smartphone capabilities, while still allowing the teen to call or text preselected phone numbers, such as 911 or Mom and Dad. Lisa recalls the moment she decided to create the app as a way to change things for good — and her daughters’ own good.

STORY: Preventing the No. 1 Killer of Teenagers in America: Unsafe Driving

“I was leaving for a business meeting more than an hour away from home,” reveals the Orange County, Calif., administrator for class-action lawsuits. It was June 2013, and she had confiscated Madi’s phone earlier because the teen had sidelined her homework for screen time. But as Lisa as readied to depart, she says, “I realized I had to give it back to her, because I still need her to be able to get in touch with me.” It was in that moment that Lisa also thought ahead to the following year, when Madi would be driving for the first time.

“I could just see her, driving home from the mall, texting about how so-and-so broke up with someone, and in the instant that she wasn’t focusing, hitting a tree or running over a person in front of her,” recalls Lisa. “That’s how quickly it happens, and that scared me. I don’t want someone’s life to be over because of a two-second mistake my daughter could make trying to multitask. And I don’t want to lose my daughter over a piece of technology.”

STORY: Beyond Texting: What Teens Really Do Behind the Wheel

Instead of just fretting or fuming over the conflict, Lisa was instantly inspired. She had previously looked for apps that would allow her kids to use their phones but still give her the ability to turn features off as needed. “But there was nothing out there someone who wasn’t an IT guru could wrap her head around,” she says. “So I decided, I’m going to do it myself.”

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Lisa Mullins and her daughters, Katie (left) and Madi. (Photo: Lisa Mullins)

Soon after that pivotal moment, Lisa reached out to a friend who worked in technology and asked him to help her figure out where to begin. “I’ve never created an app,” she says, “but I felt strongly that I wanted to see this through.” She hired a development company, “spent lot of my own money,” she admits, and “worked on it daily for about a year, making sure this app was what I wanted it to be: as easy as it can be. It’s been a long road.” And now, with her finished and recently introduced app ParentBlocked, of which she is CEO, it’s a safer road for everyone.

“The only other things out there were to block texting and driving, but there’s still so much that kids do on their phones: camera, Instagram, Internet,” says Lisa. With ParentBlocked, moms and dads get full control over their kids’ device, enabling them to lock anything on the phone anytime, as well as automatically shut off texting ability as soon as the teen’s car exceeds 10 miles per hour.

And with alarming statistics about the state of teens and driving today, parental power to help keep kids safe is more important than ever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that more than 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured daily in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver. That’s despite the fact that everyone knows better: A full 81 percent of millennials (age 18 to 34) believe that sending or checking messages online while driving is unsafe, yet 17 percent say that they “always or often” text or email while driving, according to research from the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future and Bovitz Inc.

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Lisa Mullins’s daughters, Madi (left) and Katie. (Photo: Lisa Mullins)

“My daughter will tell you, ‘My phone is my life,’” says Lisa. “She will cry over it. But as long as she doesn’t abuse it and put herself in a situation where she could potentially hurt herself or someone else by distracted driving, I never have to use ParentBlocked.” The mom adds, “I’m not here to helicopter, but I will not allow you to be posting stuff on Instagram while you’re driving down the street.”

Joking that her eldest is hardly pleased with her mom’s new product (“She hates me and tells me that all the kids are going to come to our house and burn it down,” she jokes — Lisa still says she’s thrilled with the result of all her hard work. “It gives me peace of mind,” she explains, “that my kids aren’t going to be posting selfies as they drive down the street.”

(Top photo: Lisa Mullins)


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