Distraction among those behind the wheel is a serious problem in Florida. Officials with the Florida Department of Transportation calculate some 42,000 crashes in the Sunshine State were attributable to distraction. That’s almost certainly a low estimate because distraction is not as easy to to track or quantify as, say, drunken driving.
The most recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study indicated nearly 60 percent of all crashes involving teen drivers are the result of distraction.
In recent years, this has driven a flurry of legislative action and advocacy around the issue, most commonly focused on sending and receiving text messages. But many view these laws -and Florida’s in particular – to be lax and difficult to enforce.
Seeing the persistence of the problem, Florida Atlantic University engineering professor Daniel Raviv has devised a solution. He has invented a software program that works to block text messages for drivers of motor vehicles. While the cell phones of passengers will remain unaffected, the person holding a phone in the driver’s seat will find the text message feature useless. The device will not send or receive messages while the vehicle is in motion.
Not only has Raviv successfully created this device, the university has purchased the patent and it’s likely to be available to a limited market within two months.
With the aid of cellular service providers, the technology works by tracking single signals or clusters of phone signals moving at the same pace. Once these signals are picked up, the software then pinpoints the device in the top left corner of the vehicle (based on a chip placed on the windshield of the vehicle, and the location of the other devices). The technology then disables texting features for that phone only.
Passengers are still free to send and receive messages.
That aspect is something likely to strongly appeal to Floridians, who have historically been very reticent to impose any kind of significant legislation on the matter.
The state does have an anti-texting law, but it has no real teeth. To start, it’s considered a secondary offense, which means police can’t stop drivers for violating the texting ban. The driver would also have had to commit some other infraction. Beyond that, even when tickets are issued, the total fine for a first-time offense is just $30.
Considering the devastation this action causes so many people, it seems an insult.
There are some ongoing efforts for change. For example, a bill has been introduced by a Congressman from South Florida into the U.S. House would create incentives for states like Florida to make texting behind the wheel a primary offense. By doing so, they would get a cut of $23 million in highway safety grants.
Additionally, there is another measure pending in the Florida senate that would make the offense a primary one, and double the applicable fines.
Although Raviv is encouraged by these measures, he’s also not expecting they will drastically change individual behavior anytime soon. That’s why technology like his is so important.
The product will be initially marketed to businesses and within certain geographic areas, but it’s likely to expand quickly. Raviv hopes the devices will soon come standard with all smartphones, rather than simply as an add-on feature.
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FAU prof invents a way to block texting while driving, May 11, 2015, By William E. Gibson, Sun Sentinel
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