Transport Theory

No more texting and driving, thanks to new technology

Posting in Technology

The new technology first determines whether the phone user is the driver or a passenger, and then disables (the driver's) distraction-causing phone features.

We know that texting and driving is bad. Lawmakers have made it illegal. Software platforms like Ford's MyTouch try to make it easier to have hands-free conversations and leave our cell phones alone. Cell phone operators like Sprint and T-Mobile have developed apps that limit our ability to use our phones behind the wheel, but these technologies often affect passengers - both in cars and using public transportation - rather than drivers. Yet despite these efforts, more than one-third of U.S. drivers still admit to texting behind the wheel.

So researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology and Rutgers University have developed technology that can tell if the phone user is behind the wheel, and disable the relevant distracting features on his or her phone. They use both the car's Bluetooth technology and its audio speakers to measure whether the phone is being used by the driver or a passenger.

Using this technology, the car's stereo emits high-frequency signals and determines the phone's distance from the speakers and the car's center. With 95 percent accuracy, the system can establish whether the user is a driver or a passenger, and then determine whether or not the phone's functions should be disabled.

The new technology is not flawless: it only works if the car has Bluetooth technology, if the driver's phone is hooked up to said Bluetooth system, if all the car's speakers are in working order, and its effectiveness drops if the phone is, say, lying on an empty passenger seat or inside a heavy coat.

But even with limited accuracy, it still seems far better than the current GPS-based alternative, and if my car simply will not allow me to text and drive, maybe I'll just let my co-pilot send my messages for me.

Photo: Flickr/Jason Weaver

[via CNET Car Tech, Stevens Institute of Technology]

Channtal Fleischfresser

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Channtal Fleischfresser has worked for The Economist, WNET/Channel 13, Al Jazeera English, Wall Street Journal and Associated Press. She holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure