Firms Promise Technology That Would Block Cellphone Calls To Motorists
Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. and Aegis Mobility unveiled new technology they said manages incoming and outgoing calls and text messages on drivers’ mobile phones, a product aimed at reducing — and capitalizing on — the problem of distraction while behind the wheel.
"Nationwide is working on a combination of solutions to curb driving while distracted — including public awareness, legislation, highway design and encouraging the development of new technology," said William Windsor, a Nationwide safety official. “DriveAssist is the first technology for reducing [distracted driving]. Nationwide is partnering with Aegis Mobility to help bring consumers an effective tool that empowers people to make smart decisions behind the wheel and to make the road a safer place.”
Nationwide and Aegis said the technology will be made available next year by cellular operators, but did not name any particular carriers.
DriveAssist is a software-based, patent-pending technology that runs on the mobile phone, informing a caller that the individual they are trying to contact is driving and therefore cannot answer the phone or text message. Wireless 911 calls are not blocked and there is an override feature for passengers in vehicles.
Nationwide said it will offer a discount for policyholders who use DriveAssist.
“Research has confirmed that the distraction associated with cellphone use is much more dangerous than originally suspected," said Aegis Mobility spokesperson David Teater. “This problem has grown out of the rapid adoption of mobile technology and our need to stay connected. Aegis Mobility has created the first effective technology solution for this issue.”
Teater was forced to face the consequences of distracted driving head-on in January 2004 when his 12-year-old son Joe was killed after a driver ran a red light while distracted by a mobile phone. Teater subsequently quit his job in 2006 to become a full time advocate for cellphone driving reforms and education. He eventually joined Aegis Mobility to help bring DriveAssist to market. “
There are 42,000 traffic fatalities each year in the U.S. and traffic accidents have long been the number one cause of death for teens,” said Teater. “This is exciting technology that will help people drive more responsibly.”
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have laws that restrict use of wireless communication devices by teenage drivers with learner's or instructional permits, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Six states and the District of Columbia outlaw drivers' use of handsets. Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington state and California ban wireless text messaging by drivers.
Researchers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and universities have flagged dangers associated with cellphone use by drivers. They say switching to hands-free devices does not remove the distraction risk for drivers.