Distracted driving rules drive you to distraction

Road trips are a staple of summer travel. You load up the car, cram in the kids and put the pedal to the metal. Well, it’s not that simple any more. The rules with which you have to contend vary from state to state, especially when it comes to distracted driving (also “known as get off your cell phone while driving”). Can you go hands free? Should you just shut up and drive? It depends on the state.

We’ve become more reliant on our cell phones, and not just for talking. Travel apps abound, and iPhones, BlackBerry devices and Androids laden with them help us communicate with each other to get local color, find hotels and cheap gas and even get from Point A to Point B without getting lost. All these tools that make travel easier could make driving safely harder, as you desperately need to monitor the Twitter public timeline while blowing down the highway at an absurd rate of speed.

Well, it turns out that keeping track of distracted driving rules from state to state, particularly if you’re on a long road trip, can lead you into distracted driving. Simply put: trying to obey the law can cause you to break it.Distracted driving laws, according to MSNBC, are far from uniform:

So far, 30 states – and some local jurisdictions, including Chicago and Phoenix – now have laws that address using cell phones or sending text messages while driving. Fines range from $20 to $150 for the first offense.

Unfortunately, the laws aren’t uniform. One state may ban handheld phone use in cars while another may allow it. Texting while driving is banned in dozens of states, but will result in a ticket in others only if you get into an accident.

Just keeping track of distracted driving laws can distract the heck out of you. So, you may want to print them out, MSNBC suggests, particularly since these laws aren’t always posted at state borders. A better idea, I think, is to e-mail or text them to yourself … which only works in states where you can use your cell phone while driving. D’oh!

Even better? Bring a copilot.

[photo by Lord Jim via Flickr]

Blackberry Bold 9650 – global email powerhouse

With all the recent talk of the new iPhone and snazzy new Android devices, you’d be forgiven if you forgot that the U.S. smartphone market is still dominated by RIM and their lineup of Blackberry phones. For many corporate users, the Blackberry still rules, and even though it may lack the sex appeal of the iPhone 4, the newest generation Blackberry devices are still selling like crazy.

In our recent guide on how to pick the best travel smartphone, we mentioned the new Blackberry Bold 9650 as the best option on Verizon Wireless and Sprint. The reason behind this is simple – the Blackberry 9650 features the best of all networks. In the U.S., it works on the 3G CDMA network, and when you travel abroad, it’ll switch to GSM/3G. This combination means you get fantastic coverage here, and abroad.

The specifications of the Blackberry 9650 are pretty darn impressive – WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, 3.2MP auto-focus camera, 480×360 screen, optical trackpad, hands-free speakerphone, MicroSD memory expansion, quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, dual-band CDMA/EVDO Rev. A and single-band HSDPA and up to 13 days standby time.

Now, these specifications are of course pretty weak if you plan to use it as a gaming device, but if your life revolves around email, you’ll find that very few devices on the market can compete. With a fantastic keyboard and plenty of corporate messaging features, Blackberry products are what you pick when emailing customers is more important than playing Farmville.

The Blackberry Bold 9650 comes with a full suite of office applications, allowing mobile viewing and editing of many popular file formats. The optical trackpad takes a little getting used to, especially if you are used to a trackball. That said, I did find that after about 20 minutes, I was zooming through the phone very quickly.

Travel with the Blackberry Bold 9650

The Blackberry Bold has a couple of handy tricks up its sleeve for travelers. Of course, the global network support is a fantastic feature, but when on the road, Blackberry Maps are also very convenient. Best of all, Blackberry Maps can “cache” their maps locally.

This means you can download maps over WiFi at your hotel, then head out to navigate, without using up any expensive international data.

There are also 100’s of very good Blackberry travel apps – with all the top names represented. Blackberry users can download travel apps from Kayak, TripIt, Yelp, WeatherBug, Mobiata and more.

In the coming week(s), we’ll take a closer look at some of these apps.

Where to get the Blackberry Bold 9650

The Blackberry Bold 9650 is available on Verizon Wireless and Sprint. At Verizon, the phone retails for $149.99 on a two year agreement. On Sprint, the phone costs $199 on a two year agreement, and after a $100 mail in rebate.

Even though I am guilty of ignoring Blackberry devices since my switch to Android, I’m quite surprised how quickly it has evolved recently. If your travels take you all over the world, having a phone with reliable network support is absolutely worth the investment.

Stay tuned later this week for a closer look at some of the fantastic travel applications available for Blackberry phones.

Crowne Plaza hotels help business travelers “switch off”

Crowne Plaza hotels in Africa, Europe and the Middle East have put together a service designed to help business travelers “switch off” at the end of a long day.

And no, the service does not involve forcing them to hand over their Blackberry – it is not much more than a polite reminder phone call at 7pm telling them that the time has come to put the PDA away and to close the laptop.

Crowne Plaza did some research on business travelers, and discovered that 60% of them struggle to turn their gear off before going to bed. According to the research, 27% of Brits actually take their gadgetry to bed – and will regularly check for messages during the night. Compare that to the Dutch, with just 8% and you’ll understand why 90 per cent of Dutch people claim to be completely relaxed before going to bed versus just 75 per cent across the UK, Germany and Belgium.

The “Switch Off” service is part of the Crowne Plaza SleepAdvantage program. The new sleep services will be introduced at 92 Crowne Plaza hotels in Europe, the Middle East and Africa including 24 across the UK and Ireland by the end of 2010. SleepAdvantage will offer guests luxurious bedding, dedicated quiet zones, a guaranteed wake-up call where you’ll get your call on time – or a full refund of your room price.

SkyMall Monday: SkyMall Mobile

For years, we’ve all enjoyed flipping through the SkyMall catalog on domestic flights. If you’re like us, you’ve always been frustrated that you had to wait until you landed to order your products. Sure, you could call in your order using the in-flight phone, but those calls are expensive and using the seatback phone pretty much lets everyone on the plane know that you’re a USDA certified douchebag. Now, however, more and more flights are equipped with wireless internet access. And that means that you can chat online, check emails and, yes, make your SkyMall dreams come true at 35,000 feet. Always on the forefront of innovation, SkyMall has made things even easier by introducing mobile apps for smartphones. Whether you’re a mile high, walking down the street or fingering a perp down at the precinct, you can browse the catalog, select your dream product and place your order all from your mobile device. It’s as if the best part of flying has packed its bag and moved into your pocket (which would explain that giant bulge you’re walking around with, champ).

Here at SkyMall Monday Headquarters, we still believe that the SkyMall catalog is best enjoyed in paper form on an airplane. But absent that, we welcome all technological advances that make getting these life-changing products into our hands quicker and easier than before. Which is why, this week, we’re taking a break from reviewing products to, instead, review the new SkyMall iPhone application.First things first, the SkyMall iPhone app is free. That makes it a real bargain.

More importantly, the app puts the entire SkyMall catalog on your phone. It automatically updates so that you are always perusing the current array of SkyMall booty. You can browse by department, by gift suggestions (sorted by intended recipient and price tiers) or simply search for a product by name. Once you identify a product of interest, you can read the product description, add it to your cart or email it to a friend to get a second opinion. After that, you can purchase your product directly from within the app.

The app allows you to complete your order just as you would online. You can even store your shipping address and credit card information for easy ordering. Within seconds, you’ll have found and ordered the SkyMall product of your dreams.

But the SkyMall iPhone app is more than just a handheld catalog. The app gives you instant access to SkyMall contact information, SkyMall’s Twitter feed and even a game of Concentration featuring popular SkyMall products. Killing time on flights just got SkyMallier!

As lovers of the SkyMall catalog, we love anything that brings us closer to becoming one with the catalog. But even someone without our strong pro-SkyMall bias would have to agree that this app is actually one of the better uses of mobile technology to date. It gives you true, 100% access to the catalog, excellent search capabilities and an ease of use that may be unparalleled in the mobile commerce market. Plus, you can’t beat the price.

SkyMall’s mobile app is available for iPhone and Blackberry. For those of you without either of those phones, you can still order on the go by navigating to SkyMall’s mobile page or by taking advantage of their new text-to-order interface. You can find out more about SkyMall’s mobile options here.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Blog it or Facebook it or Tweet it or … – Road trip tip

Let friends and family share in your road trip adventure by posting details along the way via your blog, Facebook, Twitter or other social media site. People at home are curious about your adventures, and seeing your update may trigger a memory or suggestion they have to improve your trip.

With a smartphone such as the Apple iPhone, Motorola Droid or Research in Motion’s BlackBerry, it’s a snap to post a status update of your trip or take and upload a photo or video of a roadside attraction. Smartphone Facebook apps and apps such as Bloglive make it easy to upload your content.

Of course, don’t do any of this while driving. Wait until you’re stopped, or have a passenger do the posting.