At any given moment on US roads, 10 percent of young drivers are working their cell phones, according to highway safety research. Now, University of Utah researchers have developed a solution to this public safety danger: a key attachment that disables a youth’s cell phone while the ignition is on.
The idea came to Wally Curry, a native of Salt Lake City and doctor. “One day, I was in my car and observed a young teenage girl texting while driving. She was looking down,” said Curry, himself a father of two teenage girls approaching driving age.
Research has provided ample evidence that cell phone use impairs driving. And yet the phenomenon persists at epidemic levels, particularly among the young, already the worst drivers on the road.
Curry and his colleague, Xuesong Zhou, a civil engineer at the University of Utah, developed Key2SafeDriving. The university has obtained provisional patents and licensed the invention to a private company that hopes to see it on the market within six months at a cost of less than $50 per key plus a yet-undetermined monthly service fee.
The system includes a device that encloses a car key – one for each teen driver or family member. The device connects wirelessly with each key user’s cell phone via either Bluetooth or RFID technologies.
To turn on the engine, the driver must either slide the key out or push a button to release it. Then the device sends a signal to the driver’s cell phone, placing it in “driving mode” and displaying a “stop” sign on the phone’s display screen.
While in driving mode, teen drivers cannot use their cell phones to talk or send text messages, except for calling 911 or other numbers pre-approved by the parents – and most likely the parents’ own cell phone numbers. Incoming calls and texts are automatically answered with the message saying, “I am driving now. I will call you later when I arrive at the destination safely.” When the engine is turned off, the driver slides the key back into the device, which sends a “car stopped” signal to the cell phone, returning it to a normal communication mode.
The device can’t be “tricked” by turning the phone off and on again because the phone will receive the “driving mode” signal whenever the car key is extended.
Source: Brian Murphy, Salt Lake Tribune