Thursday, August 19, 2010

Driving and using the cell phone irrestible? New technology could take away temptation!

SEATTLE -- Asked if the statewide texting-while-driving ban is really working, drivers out there compare it to speeding -- yes, they know what the law says, but many are just finding ways to conceal their activity around police.

"I see the law working a little bit, but there's still a lot of people texting and talking," said driver Martin Cooper.

"You can look both sides of you, you're guaranteed to see people on the phone," said truck driver Whitney Howatt.

"You'll get the people who'll palm their phone," said driver Michael Lombardy.

Now, one local inventor wants lawmakers to require phones in view of the driver to automatically disable when the car is running.

"They were talking a lot about 'Let's just pass laws so the police will look in drivers' windows to see what they're doing with their hands and eyes,'" said Jeff Haley, who is also a patent attorney. "And I thought, there ought to be a technical solution."

Haley said the technology he's touting already exists in one form or another. In February, he and colleague Mike Robinson formed the Seattle-based Distracted Driving Foundation (

"We believe that government, through state or federal legislation, should require phone companies to use available and new technology to restrict the functions of handheld electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle for any use other than important voice calls, without limiting use by passengers," the foundation's website states.

Haley said for many, the urge to read a text message or e-mail is irresistible. He believes restrictions embedded in the phones would take the human element out of the equation. He compared it to railroad crossings, put in place to restrict drivers for their own safety.

The foundation has contacted several companies that already make software to put phones in "driving mode" when they sense they're moving more than 15 miles per hour.

Callers are greeted with an automatic voice message: "The person you have called is driving and cannot take your call."

The key is to make the technology recognize when people are in the passenger seat or some form of public transportation, as well as when the driver is using their Bluetooth hands-free device.

Haley said they have a handful of Washington state lawmakers who have signed on to help get wireless carriers on board, and get a bill before the legislature in the next session. For now, they're looking to require phone restrictions on teen drivers, with an eventual goal of all drivers in the United States, and beyond. They're also seeking funding for the non-profit foundation.

John Walls, vice president of public affairs for the CTIA, a group that represents the wireless industry, did list two concerns. He said any such technology cannot be interference-based, since federal law prohibits any blocking of cell phone signal transmissions.

"But if it's embedded in the handset or the network... The overall concept we are completely behind," he said.

Walls' other concern was that any law favoring one technology over another would "start boxing yourself into the corner, because you may squelch [the best technology's] development through that law," he said.

"We would probably have some discussion and take a long look at that," he added.

A 2009 study by Virginia Tech researchers videotaping millions of hours of eye movements of drivers found that texting while driving made the risk of a crash or near-crash more than 23 times more likely than non-distracted driving.

While drivers agree distracted driving is dangerous, they have mixed feelings about this "technical solution."

"That would probably actually be the point where people won't be on their phone, because they won't be able to," Howatt said.

"I don't know about that one, the phone calls still need to come through," said Lombardy. "It's up to the individual person to make the choice."

Distracted Driving Foundation:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

GDL Laws (Graduated Licensing Laws) are beginning to show promise and are effective

GDL Laws (Graduated Licensing Laws) are beginning to show promise and are effective

■A May 2010 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on teen driver safety concluded that additional research could help states strengthen their graduated licensing systems (GDL). Existing research shows that GDL laws are associated with lower teen fatalities but because limited research has been conducted on the optimum provisions of these laws, states might be missing opportunities to strengthen their programs. The GAO recommends that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conduct additional research on minimum age requirements, nighttime and passenger restrictions, the effect of bans on electronic devices, driver education and parental involvement. The report also acknowledged that currently no grant program specifically targets teens and no federal law exists requiring states to meet licensing requirements or standards.

■The Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act of 2010 ( S.3269, STAND UP) was introduced in the Senate in April 2010 by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The Act contains minimum requirements such as enacting a two-stage licensing system, including a learners permit phase to begin at age 16 and lasting at least six months. It would prohibit night driving and cellphone use in non-emergency situations. The second, intermediate stage would include the restrictions from the first stage and ban more than one non-family passenger. This stage would last until age 18 The bill also includes provisions for incentive grants to states that enact the law within three years and for highway fund withholding during the fourth year if states do not meet the minimum requirements
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