From the ABC, news of a great innovation
Texting while driving: Australia could launch gadget to stop drivers sending SMS messages
UpdatedPHOTO: The device fits into a port under the steering wheel of most car models made after 1996. (ABC News)
Australia could be the first country to launch a gadget that stops drivers from texting.
American Scott Tibbitts invented the device after he turned up to a business meeting in 2008, to discover the man he was supposed to meet had been killed by a texting driver.
“I got there and he’d been killed a couple of hours before,” Mr Tibbitts said.
“It started this process of thinking, ‘what’s the solution going to be?'”
Mr Tibbitts is a technology entrepreneur based in Colorado who previously made space parts used by NASA.
He is in Australia this week negotiating with major telecommunications and insurance companies about a local release of his invention.
It is a small device that fits into a port under the steering wheel of most car models made after 1996.
It connects the car to the internet, and can then block the driver from receiving distractions on their mobile phone, such as text messages.
“They are basically held for you while you drive and then they don’t end up on your phone,” he said.
“You won’t get anything that distracts you with a little bing.”
It’s kind of a breakthrough technology … we think it will go some ways towards improving driver behaviour.Hollard Insurance chief operating officer Richard Heilig
The driver can customise what they do or do not receive while they are driving.
For example, phone calls can be blocked, but GPS and music functions can still operate.
When drivers turn the engine off, their messages come through.
Passengers’ phones are not affected.
Insurers could offer discounts to drivers who use device
About one-third of all drivers admit to texting and driving, despite it being illegal.
About two thirds of drivers under-25 admit to doing it.
“We see an increasing amount of claims where the accident is likely to have been caused by drivers texting,” Hollard Insurance chief operating officer Richard Heilig said.
He confirmed Hollard Insurance, which includes Woolworths Insurance and Medibank Private, was in discussions with Mr Tibbitts about his invention.
“It’s kind of a breakthrough technology … we think it will go some ways towards improving driver behaviour,” Mr Heilig said.
His company could potentially offer discounts to drivers who use a device that reduces distractions.PHOTO: Scott Tippitts is negotiating with major telecommunications and insurance companies about a local release of his invention.
Telephone networks are crucial to the device operating, and the ABC understands Telstra and Optus are also involved in negotiations.
“We’re talking to multiple telcos and [having] discussions with what the partnership looks like, and working towards having pilot [programs] roll out this year,” Mr Tibbitts said.
“If things were to go as we hope, it’s possible we’d have a product that deploys here before the end of the year.”
There are already phone apps available that perform the same function.
VicRoads, for example, has Road Mode, which disables text messages and silences incoming calls.
Like Mr Tibbitts’ device, people trying to contact the driver receive an automated text message telling them the person is driving.
However, phone apps have to be manually turned on and off every time and can drain the phone battery on long drives.
About 8,500 people have downloaded the VicRoads app since it was introduced in 2013.