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Combating the texting while driving impulse

Engaging in texting while driving or driving while performing other audio-visual tasks, such as dialing a telephone, triples the risk of becoming involved in a car accident according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. A survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 94 percent of people claimed that texting while driving was unacceptable. However, a third of these drivers admitted to engaging in this behavior.

A new company, Katasi, has partnered with Sprint and American Family Insurance to develop technology to overcome this compulsion and stop drivers from texting and driving. The device, invented by chemical engineer Scott Tibbitts, utilizes telematics technology that connects a vehicle to the internet. Telematics is now being used by insurance companies to measure behavior such as speeding or slamming on brakes. It is predicted that 88 percent of vehicles will have telematics by 2025.

The telematics box in the vehicle will be used to shut down a driver's phone during driving. As designed, the telematics device will send a message that the vehicle is moving. The driver's phone also transmits a message on its location. Both transmissions are sent to Katasi servers. An algorithm analyzes this information with other data such as the location of the phones belonging to all of the car's drivers and the starting point of the trip.

Even though the device was originally intended to block texts, it may also stop calls, emails and other data. The device can also send automatic messages that the driver cannot receive texts while driving. If all of the drivers are in the car, however, Katasi will not block messages under the assumption that the passengers will prevent the driver from texting and driving.

GPS systems can now block calls and other messages but are used in small numbers. Sprint is considering marketing this new device by giving rewards to users from Chipotle, Starbucks and other companies.

Awaiting the perfection of this device, the confusing nature of distracted driving laws and the difficulty of enforcement will subject drivers to continued risk of car accidents. Distracted driving claimed 3,328 lives and injured 421,000 in 2012 according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Victims of accidents caused by a distracted driver should obtain prompt advice to assure their rights to compensation are protected.

Source: The New York Times, "Trying to hit the brake on texting while driving," Matt Richtel, Sept. 13, 2014

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