Sprint’s Drive First app lets parents lock-up phones of teens on the move

US wireless operator Sprint has just launched an application that may literally save a few lives.

The application, currently launched for Sprint’s Android phones and soon to be extended to others, automatically locks the phone when it is moved at more than 10 miles per hour.

Most modern phones have the ability to figure out how fast ‘they’ are moving (or carried) thanks to built in location technology such as GPS or simple cell-phone tower triangulation.

“Shortly after the car exceeds 10 mph – determined using GPS and cell tower triangulation – the mobile phone will be locked. If the driver is using the phone when Sprint Drive First engages, the call will end and the phone lock screen will appear.

“Anyone texting the driver will receive an automated message indicating the person they texted is driving. The message is customizable by the account holder,” Sprint said, unveiling its “Drive First” application for Android today.

The locked device will display emergency 911 buttons that are not affected by the lock-down. Calls will be diverted to voice-mail.

The $2 per month application is aimed at worried parents of teenagers who feel their children may not be adhering to driving safety norms.

“Sprint Drive First can be overridden if the user is a passenger in a car, on a bus or train, but the parent or account holder can choose to receive notifications when the service is overridden,” Sprint Nextel pointed out.

Parents can set up to five phone numbers that are allowed to ring through even when the phone is locked as well set apps, such as navigation, music or weather, from the control of the application.

“When the application no longer detects movement it unlocks and full device functionality resumes… the driver needs to be sitting idle for a few minutes before it will unlock,” Sprint said.

Sprint said 20 percent of injury crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving, quoting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

“Of those killed in distracted-driving-related crashes, 995 involved reports of a mobile phone as a distraction (18 percent of fatalities in distraction-related crashes). The age group with the greatest proportion of distracted drivers was the under-20 age group – 16 percent of all drivers younger than 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving,” it said.

Sprint said all its Android phones launched after “late Q3” (August-September) will have the application pre-installed.

In such cases, parents just need to log on to www.sprint.com/drivefirst and activate the service for the phones in their account. It will, of course, still need some tinkering at the user end to set it up and cannot be activated on the sly.

Other Android phone users can download the application, while versions for platforms such as the Blackberry are on their way.