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U. device disables driver’s cell phone while car is running

Key2SafeDriving blocks calls, texting by teenage motorists

SHARE U. device disables driver’s cell phone while car is running
University of Utah engineers have invented a wireless car key device to stop teenage motorists from talking on their cell phone or sending text messages while driving.

University of Utah engineers have invented a wireless car key device to stop teenage motorists from talking on their cell phone or sending text messages while driving.

University Of Utah

Want to text or talk on a cell phone while driving? Forget about it.

A new device, developed by University of Utah researchers, prevents the use of cell phones while the car is running.

The rectangular device, called Key2SafeDriving, has an automobile key embedded in it. When the driver slides the key out, the device connects to the driver's phone via Bluetooth or radio-frequency identification technology. It sends a signal to the phone that places it in "driving mode" and displays a stop sign on the phone's screen, rendering it inoperable. Anyone who places a call or text to the phone while in driving mode will get a message that says, "I am driving now. I will call you later when I arrive at the destination safely."

The inventors hope to have it on the market in about six months, with the technology licensed to cell phone providers to offer in service plans.

One of the inventors, U. alumnus Wally Curry, now a urologist in Hays, Kan., got the idea because the hospital where he works calls him on his cell phone frequently, often while he's driving. And one day as he was driving, he saw a teenage girl texting behind the wheel.

"I thought, 'This is crazy, there has got to be something to stop this, because not only is she putting people at risk, but so was I,'" Curry said. "It struck me pretty hard that something should be done."

A study conducted at the U. shows younger drivers who are on the phone have the reaction time of an elderly person and are more than five times as likely to get in a wreck.

"I've seen the devastation of car accidents," Curry said.

As a father of two daughters who will soon drive, he is worried about their safety. Regardless of parental instruction and laws forbidding talking on a cell phone while driving, teenagers will still use their phones, thinking nothing will happen to them or that they won't cause any harm.

"Everybody thinks they're invincible," Curry said.

So to ensure teenagers and others don't talk or text while driving, Curry came up with an idea to use GPS to disable a cell phone in the car. Someone beat him to the punch and developed a similar system, but it couldn't distinguish between actually driving the car, being a passenger or riding on a train or bus.

Curry contacted U. assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering Xuesong Zhou. Together they came up with the idea of Key2SafeDriving.

According to Zhou, using the Bluetooth device with an imbedded key is the most practical and cost effective solution. After the key is cut for a certain vehicle, the user can go to the company's Web site and configure the device to disable the phone, allow "permission phone numbers" such as parents or permit a hands-free device. Emergency 911 is always enabled.

The Web-based setup is password protected so only those with the password can make changes. Zhou said it is difficult to override and "trick" it into not working.


E-mail: lwilde@desnews.com