Six years ago, a teenage driver was texting on his phone when he ran a red light and struck a car driving through the intersection. Dave Sueper, a businessman and father of two, was in that car and killed in the accident. Sueper had been on his way to meet Scott Tibbitts, a chemical engineer and space entrepreneur who made motors for NASA. When Sueper, also a father of two, learned of his associate's fate, he was deeply affected and became fixated on finding a way to prevent another death caused by texting and driving.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, roughly 1.6 million auto crashes each year are caused by cell phone use. And those cell phone-related accidents are responsible for a half million injuries and 6,000 lives every year. Texting while driving causes 20 percent of all teen auto-related fatalities in the U.S., replacing drinking and driving as the leading cause of teen vehicular death.
But while attempts have been made to stop drivers from texting behind the wheel, none has yet to gain traction. Apps intended to disable texting while driving are activated when the phone moves at a speed greater than 10 miles per hour, but they can't distinguish between phones that are in the pockets of drivers and those that are in use by someone riding in the car or on a public bus or train.
This was the challenge that Tibbitts and his team decided to tackle. Tibbitts had recently sold his space company, Starsys Research Corp., and was looking for a new professional challenge. His new company, Katasi, is focused on the mission of preventing texting and driving. And he and his team may have unlocked the technological solution.
Their answer is Groove, a small black box that plugs into a port located under the steering wheel. Most cars built after 1996 have this port although many don't yet utilize the technology they possess to connect cars with the Internet. Groove works by tapping into each phone in the car and using an algorithm to determine who the driver is. Then it notifies the driver's phone carrier that the user is driving and all texts are blocked until the car is turned off. Once the driver stops driving, Groove notifies the phone carrier again and the texts come rolling back in.
In order for Groove to work, it relies heavily on partnerships with mobile phone carriers — a point that may be the sticking point for this technology. Katasi is working actively with two U.S. carriers to deploy Groove in 2015, but this, according to Tibbitts, is not enough. "Our goal is to have every carrier on board with Groove, providing the capability to limit distractions before they get to the phone when a subscriber is driving" he said in an interview with Yahoo News.
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