December 11, 2008, 1:16 PM — University of Utah researchers have invented technology that could come to be embraced by teenagers with the same enthusiasm they have for curfews and ID checks. And like those things, it could save their lives.
The Key2SafeDriving technology uses RFID or Bluetooth wireless capabilities to issue signals from a car key to a cell phone to prevent drivers from talking on their phones or texting while driving. Some research shows that as many as one in 10 teen drivers talk on cell phones or send text messages while driving, and the consequences of such ill-advised multitasking have grabbed many a headline in recent years.
A company called Accendo LC of Kaysville, Utah, has licensed the technology and is working to build it into commercial devices that could be on the market next year. The company is sorting out how to bring the technology to market, but one possibility is that it would be made available through cell-phone service companies and could be tied in with insurance companies, which might offer discounts for users.
Xuesong Zhou, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, sums up the purpose of the technology this way: "The key to safe driving is to avoid distraction." He invented Key2SafeDriving with Wally Curry, a University of Utah grad student.
The system involves a device that envelopsÂ a car key and that signals the cell phone to prevent calls and texting when the key is removed from it. The cell phone would steer callers automatically into a voice mail system alerting them that the intended call recipient is driving and will return the call later (the system does enable 911 calling, however).
In theory, the technology could be used by adults, but the reality is they are more likely to have their kids use it. If insurance discounts were part of the mix, however, adults could be swayed to use it, too.
The issue of using cell phones while driving has become something of a focus at the University of Utah. Earlier this year it released findings that showed cell-phone-wielding drivers tend to drive more slowly and can create traffic jams.