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Technology fix needed to stop texting while driving

Posting in Technology

Cellphone use is responsible for a quarter of crashes in the U.S. It’s time to act and it will require a technical solution, according to Charles Pless and Barry Pless, a father-and-son duo of doctors, in their editorial in the British Medical Journal this week.

Possible interventions, they write, include education and legislation, but the evidence from two decades of studies with either are inconsistent. “Part of the responsibility lies with the law makers to make sure the penalties are severe,” Montreal-based Barry Pless tells The Globe and Mail. But if the chances of getting caught are low and the penalty isn’t significant, “then who cares? Then you’ll keep on.”

The paradox seems inevitable, they write: the most promising solution to distracted driving caused by cellphones may well be more technology.

Some of their examples of gadgetry that nudges people towards desirable behaviors include:

  • Software that prevents texting while driving set as a factory default.
  • Convenient mobile phone pull-out areas with free wifi access.
  • Automatic messages informing callers that the recipient is driving.
  • A sensor such as a signal jamming key that prevents cellphone reception when the ignition is engaged. This is available through Key2SafeDriving.
  • Aegis Mobility uses software to detect when a cellphone is in a moving car. Then all non-emergency outbound calls are blocked, inbound calls are routed to voicemail, and inbound text messages are stored. Their apps include FleetSafer and TeenSafer.

There will, of course, need to be a way to block phone use by drivers while still allowing passengers to use their phones.

Until nudging works fully, they write, regulatory bodies must be instructed to incorporate the best available technological preventive measures into all new cellphones and cars.

[BMJ via Popular Science]

Image: Paul Sableman via Flickr

— By on February 9, 2014, 9:59 PM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure