Developer’s Story Shows Struggles of Using Tech to Fight Texting While Driving

A recent story in the New York Times highlights a Colorado man’s struggles to develop and distribute technology that can stop people from texting while driving. As his story illustrates, technology alone likely won’t solve this issue.

The developer, Scott Tibbitts, created a wireless network-based way to block drivers from using their phones and from sending or reading texts while operating their vehicles, according to the Times. The technology is seen as a step up from existing GPS-based blocking systems.

However, a network partner that at one time seemed to be along for the ride, Sprint, has stalled on the project, the Times reports. The company cited concerns about liability if the device failed.

However, as the article speculates, Sprint may have simply seen a lack of market demand. The reality may be that consumers are more interested in being connected while driving instead of being safe.

Innovative System Uses ‘Telematics’

To work effectively, a system that blocks drivers from texting or talking on a phone while driving must know that the person is, in fact, driving.

Many existing apps rely on GPS systems to indicate when a person is driving, including the Sprint Drive First app, AT&T DriveMode app and an app provided by Aegis Mobility.

However, GPS-based systems have their drawbacks. First, drivers can easily bypass them. Second, using GPS systems can quickly drain a phone’s battery, as the Times describes.

Tibbitts’ system seeks to solve that problem by using “telematics,” or a combination of telecommunications and mobility. In particular, the system works by plugging a telematics box into an OBD 2 port found in most cars today.

The box transmits a message to the wireless network which conveys that the car is moving and gives its location. This message is fed to servers, which are able to determine whose phone it is and to block all texts, calls and e-mails to that phone.

Sprint Wavers in Support of New Technology

On one hand, the environment is perfect for this new technology to flourish, the Times points out.

In the past, cell phone carriers charged users by the minute. They had no incentive to stop drivers from texting or talking while driving. However, today, many carriers offer unlimited use and earn money by getting fees from insurance companies for carrying wireless connections on their networks.

Sprint, for instance joined support of Tibbitts’ project along with an insurance company, American Family Insurance.

However, on the other hand, maybe the public isn’t ready for blocking technology. As the Times points out, relatively few drivers have adopted GPS-based systems, and Sprint may have recently wavered in its support of Tibbitts’ network-based system because “costs were mounting, [and] the returns unclear.”

‘This Is a Behavior Problem’

Ultimately, as Tibbitts’ concedes, texting while driving is a “behavior problem.” It may take many years before anti-texting technology is not only developed but also accepted by the public.

Technology, in this sense, is just one part of a multi-pronged approach to solving this issue. We must also continue to raise awareness of the dangers of texting while driving, pass tough laws and enforce those laws.