New Technology Might Curtail Texting and Driving Accident
Distracted driving has become one of the most prevalent causes of traffic-related fatalities. Although distracted driving can take many forms, text messaging constitutes one of the most dangerous ways that drivers multi-task behind the wheel. While thousands of people die because drivers are sending, reading or composing text messages rather than focusing on the road, one such tragic story has inspired a new technology that might one day prevent texting and driving accidents.
According to news reports, Dave Sueper was on his way to a business meeting when he died in a fatal crash caused by a texting driver who blew through a red light. Sueper was on his way to meet with Scott Tibbitts, a chemical engineer and space entrepreneur, who was deeply affected by Sueper's tragic death. Following this tragedy, Tibbitts focused his attentions on developing a technological solution to the problem of distracted driving.
Tibbitts went on to found a company called Katasi, which had the goal of developing a way to prevent phone calls and texts from reaching cell phones of drivers. Although there were "apps" on the market that could disable mobile phones from being used for phone calls or text messaging while a vehicle was being driven, these solutions could be easily overridden by the driver. Since a driver who elects not to turn off his or her cell phone while driving is unlikely to activate a program that blocks text messaging and calls, Tibbitts endeavored to create a solution that could not be overridden or neutralized by motorists.
Generally, existing technology aimed at curbing cell phone use while driving taps into GPS signals when vehicles travel in excess of ten miles per hour. However, these solutions have a number of drawbacks. Although the most obvious weakness of these existing alternatives is that their effectiveness depends on the willingness of a driver to engage the app, there are other disadvantages that impair their effectiveness. Most distracted driving apps cannot distinguish whether the driver or a passenger is using a cell phone. Another shortcoming involving distracted driving apps currently on the market is that they identify any vehicle traveling more than ten miles per hour, which can include taxis, buses, bicycles and commuter trains as well as automobiles.
Katasi's answer to these shortcomings is called the Groove, which is a small device that plugs into a port located under the steering column of a vehicle. Once drivers are registered with Groove, the device will notify the motorist's cellular provider within seconds of the vehicle beginning its excursion. Grove in conjunction with the mobile phone carrier then blocks distractions so calls and text messages never reach the driver while the vehicle is in motion. After the driver parks, Groove contacts the cell carrier, which sends through blocked messages.
It is premature to know whether the tragic death of Dave Sueper will provide the inspiration that saves many others from distracted driving deaths. However, technology aimed at curtailing texting and driving might someday offer protections similar to those provided by ignition interlock devices, which prevent drivers from operating a vehicle while intoxicated. In the interim, many people will continue to be injured in distracted driving accidents.
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