No-Text Technology

Technology may be killing us. There seems to be no doubt that the mixture of cell phones and driving is dangerous. And texting while driving appears to be the most dangerous mobile activity of all.

Various studies show anywhere between half and three-quarters of teen drivers admit they often text while driving. Other studies show huge support for banning such activity, including a recent CBS News/New York Times poll.


Images from flickr.com members poka0059Colin Purrington and bsimser. Used under Creative Commons license.

So can technology help prevent what technology hath wrought? Some entrepreneurs think so, and they hope to convince parents, if not teens, that they have systems that can keep a kids hands on the wheel, and off the keypad.

Some, like a system from Aegis Mobility, use GPS to detect if a phone is moving at driving speed. It simply intercepts calls and texts if it detects movement. Aegis has a dramatic - maybe over-dramatic - presentation of its system online. It charges a monthly fee, and is trying to set up deals with insurance companies to give young drivers who employ the system a break on their rates.

But GPS-based schemes have obvious downsides. They may block phones when users are in cabs, riding with others, or maybe, even while skateboarding (that might not be a bad thing.)

Others take a different approach. Safe Driving Systems, of Salt Lake City, uses bluetooth and an electronic key that determines when a car is running. The bluetooth sends out a signal that locks the keypad during driving. The company hasn't yet brought the product to market, but expects it to be available soon, for a one-time fee of about $100.

There are firms developing monitors that can alert parents when their children are sending texts on their phone while driving - often by sending a text to the parents phone. (Hope the old folks aren't driving when they get that alert.)

As you may have noticed, high technology sometimes totally misses the irony in its pursuits. So, there are also systems that attempt to translate text messages to voice, and allow users to respond by voice, which is then translated back to text. Wouldn't it just be easier to actually use the phone, and talk in it?


So far the big cell phone carriers have not announced any major initiatives to limit or restrict calls and texts in automobiles, though one could see the marketing advantages of such a service, especially since so many parents are footing the bill for their kid's cell phones.


Many experts think at the end of the day, it will take years, and a massive amount of education and enforcement to wean drivers from the distraction of their mobile devices. Parents may have to do the unthinkable - pry the phones from their children's texting fingers. And kids who've gotten the message may have to become enforcers, too - shaming Mommy and Daddy when they reach for the phone while they're behind the wheel.


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