Bluetooth Device Gags Phone When User Hits the Road

Researchers at the University of Utah have developed a new device designed to prevent drivers from talking on their cell phones or sending text messages while operating a car.

The Key2SafeDriving (K2SD) technology, for which provisional patents and licensing have been granted, is a device that’s coupled with the car’s ignition key. Once the car’s engine has been started, K2SD sends a signal that blocks the driver from dialing out or texting using his or her cell phone. It also blocks incoming phone calls and text messages.

The device is targeted at parents of teens who want to ensure their kids aren’t distracted by handsets while driving a vehicle.

“We want to provide a simple, cost-effective solution to improve driving safety,” said Xuesong Zhou, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering who helped invent the system with Wally Curry, a University of Utah graduate now practicing medicine in Hays, Kan.

Overall, roughly 6 percent of drivers use their cell phones while driving, according to Zhou. However, about 10 percent of teenagers use phones while behind the wheel, either to talk or in some cases even to read and type out text messages. Recent studies indicate that drivers who use their cell phones while operating a car are about four time more likely to have an accident than those who do not.

Traveling Phone Booth

K2SD technology uses Bluetooth or radio frequency identification (RFID) to connect to a user’s mobile handset.

To start a car, the driver must slide the key out of the enclosing K2SD device. That triggers the system, causing it to send a signal to the cell phone that places it in “driving mode” and displays a “stop” sign on the phone’s display screen.

People using K2SD will not be able to talk or text while driving. Any incoming callers will hear a recorded message that says, “I am driving now. I will call you later when I arrive at the destination safely.” The same message will be sent out for incoming text messages.

For safety reasons, the device will allow calls in “drive mode” under certain circumstances: calls to 9-1-1 and any numbers pre-approved by the device’s administrator, typically a parent.

Users can also set the K2SD device to automatically put their handsets in hands-free mode while driving.

While University of Utah studies indicate that using a hands-free device is just as distracting for drivers as a handheld device, for adults, the researcher’s goal is simply to reduce the time spent talking while driving, he said.

Not a Jammer

Although Section 333 of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits anyone from willful or malicious interference with any radio communications, Zhou said the device is not a jammer.

“Our invention is not a jammer, it only blocks or prevents the use of certain texting/talking functions in a particular phone, not all the nearby phones,” he said.

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