Using technology to keep teens from driving while texting

By Larry Copeland

USA Today

Published: Monday, Jan. 16 2012 11:02 p.m. MST

In this Sept. 20, 2011 file photo, a phone is held in a car in Brunswick, Maine.

Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

Anxious parents worried about teens and distracted driving are tapping new technology to keep their young drivers from texting, surfing and even talking behind the wheel.

"Absolutely, it gives me peace of mind," says Jack Lavender, 50, a consultant in Berwyn, Pa., who uses a product called Cellcontrol, which parents can buy for $7.95 a month for up to six phones. It prevents his 21-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son from using their phones while driving. "They live so much on the phone and they do so much of their communication using texting. I know how dangerous it is, so for me, it's really reassuring to know that they're not doing it."

Parents say the technology not only makes the roads safer for their children and others but also provides reassurance at a time when nearly half of young drivers use their phones to surf the Internet and more than a third use them to access social media networks.

Applications that prevent people from using their phones while a vehicle is moving also are gaining popularity with corporate fleet managers. A new federal regulation that took effect Jan. 1 penalizes commercial truck and bus drivers up to $2,750 each time they're caught reaching for or dialing a phone while driving.

"Driving while distracted is quickly becoming the new DUI/DWI," says Daniel Maier, vice president of sales at Needham, Mass.-based Illume Software. It was founded 3 years ago to produce the iZup line of distracted-driving prevention products for Android and Blackberry devices.

Jennifer Smith, 37, of Chicago says she plans to use iZup,(AT) which costs $20 annually, to block the cellphone of her daughter, Emani Lawrence, 16, when she is driving. It saves voice calls to voice mail and holds data interactions including text messages while a vehicle is moving. "Technology got us into this; technology can get us out," Smith says.

Types of technology:

Software that uses on-phone GPS or in-vehicle Bluetooth systems to determine when the vehicle is moving.

Devices that connect with the vehicle's on-board diagnostics port or integrate into vehicle electronics or infotainment platform, shutting off gadgets while the vehicle is moving. They include Cellcontrol, Key2SafeDriving and Taser International's Protector.

Detection, jamming, monitoring and sensors. They include Trinity-Noble's Guardian Angel, which locks the keys of a cellphone when a vehicle is going over a pre-set speed.

"If you use technology to address distracted driving, then I believe we will create a new generation of safer drivers because they'll never use the bad behaviors in the first place that we brought into the car," says Chuck Cox, senior vice president of Baton Rouge, La.-based Cellcontrol, founded in 2009 to develop technology against distracted driving.

The technology can go only so far, though, says Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "It's not clear that these systems are going to be widely accepted by consumers," he says. "The effect of these systems on distracted driving as a whole is likely going to be limited."

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