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Wireless Invention Curbs Teen's Conversations While Driving

Fri, 01/30/2009 - 9:06am
Nancy Maas
Editor-in-Chief
We've all been in this situation – you are returning home from a long trip, anxious to reach your final destination and the car in front of you is traveling far below the speed limit and shows no signs of moving over. This happened to me recently on a two-lane road with very few safe opportunities to pass the vehicle. When the roadway eventually expanded into three lanes, I immediately pulled out and proceeded to get around the slowpoke. As I glanced over at the driver, it was no surprise to see a teenager talking on a cell phone. Apparently, the conversation was so enthralling that the driver was totally unaware that the car was traveling well below the speed limit of the road and holding up numerous cars.

Several studies support the fact that motorists who choose to talk on their cell phone while driving are distracted and tend to drive inconsistently and may exhibit delayed response times. David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, authored a study that determined drivers on cell phones took about three percent longer to drive the same highly traffic-clogged route than people who were not on the phone.

In fact, engineers at the university have invented a wireless car key device to stop teenage motorists from talking on their cell phone or sending text messages while driving. When the key is extended from the device, it sends a signal to the teenage driver's phone, putting the phone in a "driving mode" so it cannot be used to talk or send text messages. The device connects wirelessly with the user's cell phone via either Bluetooth or RFID technologies. The system is called Key2Safe Driving.

No doubt some parents are going to be very interested in purchasing this device. According to Xuesong Zhou a co-creator of the key, "The key to safe driving is to avoid distraction. We want to provide a simple, cost-effective solution to improve driving safety."

Teens are easily distracted (and they aren't the only ones) and if this technology can save at least one life, it is worth the investment. However, it does not come without its caveats. First, I think cell phone blockers are still illegal in the US according to the FCC. They are not allowed to be marketed or used. Secondly, 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.

Incoming calls and text messages are automatically answered with a message saying, "I am driving now, I will call you later when I arrive at the destination safely." This is where I have a problem with the device. This could be a very frightening situation for a parent in need of reaching their child because of an emergency situation. If the inventors can get around that encumbrance and the legal question, I think the design has its merits.

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