PORTLAND, Ore. Tired of swerving cars operated by drivers who are text messaging in traffic?
Patented technology developed by University of Utah (Salt Lake City) researchers may provide a solution. The scheme blocks all cellphone use while driving. Key2SafeDriving (Kaysville, Utah), the first licensee of the technology, will initially target teenage drivers. The system, currently in prototyping, could be available in as little as six months.
"Teenage drivers are only about six percent of the population, but they account for over 10 percent of all automobile accidents. So we think they are a good starting point," said Wally Curry, a medical doctor who co-invented the technology with University of Utah professor Xuesong Zhou. "My dream, however, is that this technology will eventually prevent all drivers from using their cellphone while driving."
|A special key sends a Bluetooth message to cellphones whenever it is extended to start a car. Once activated, it displays a "stop sign" if drivers attempt to use their phone. |
Many states permit only hands-free use of cellphones while driving, despite the fact that University of Utah studies show that hands-free cellphone usage causes just as many distractions as normal use. Key2SafeDriving claims it will prevent any phone usage by teenagers, although parents can set the system to allow hands-free calling.
The technology works with a special car-key holder that costs about $50 and includes a Bluetooth radio which is activated whenever the key is extended from its holder to start a car engine. Once extended, the key signals the driver's cellphone to prevent its use. If the driver opens the phone and tries to use it, the phone displays a stop sign icon with the message "Please do not talk while driving."
The system, however, does allow calling 911 or specially-designated phone numbers, such as parents' home phone.
"We originally thought of using GPS to detect when the cellphone was in motion, but that does not distinguish between drivers and passengers--plus you could still makes calls at stop signs. With Bluetooth phones and this special key, we can block all usage of phones as long as the car is running," said Curry.
Wireless carriers will have to license the technology to make the system work, since without it, users could defeat they system by turning off Bluetooth on their phones. RFID technology is also being developed by Key2SafeDriving as an alternative to Bluetooth.
In its current implementation, teenage drivers would not be able to defeat the system by turning off their phone and waiting until the car is running or by various other methods anticipated by developers. "We believe the system is foolproof, and we also believe it will save lives," said Curry.
Carriers are expected to charge users a monthly fee for the system, which will include sending messages to parents whenever the teenager opens their phone while driving. Carriers are also expected to compile "safety scores," which will be sent monthly to a subscriber's insurance company, which in turn will offer discount rates to motorists who can verify that they do not use a phone while driving.
Insurance companies are expected to endorse the system since studies have shown that cellphone usage while driving results in a four-fold increase in car accidents.