Distracted driving has a solution, but will we embrace it?

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Paul Oka

There are some facts about distracted driving that many people probably intuit but might not know are borne out by research.

First of all, distracted driving is now the number one cause of teen driving deaths.

And next, distracted driving is implicated in as many as 6,000 road deaths each year in the U.S.

Lastly, most of us (90% of adults) say texting - receiving one or sending one - while driving is unacceptable. Yet secretly, 30% of us admit we do either the one or the other or both.

One man, a former rocket scientist named Scott Tibbitts, has made it his mission in the last six years to try to find a reliable way to cut down distracted driving. Tibbitts was supposed to have a meeting with Dave Sueper in 2008. When he got to Sueper's company on the scheduled meeting date, he was told that Sueper had just been killed when a teenager t-boned his car after running a red light while distracted.

Eventually Tibbitts found a solution he thought had promise, and he calls it Groove. Groove works with all cellular phones, not just smart phones. A controller installed in a Groove car wirelessly notifies phone service carrier networks once the car begins to move faster than five miles per hour, interrupting texting and other social media updates (as programmed by the phone subscriber) to the phone.

Once started up, the interruption continues as long as the car engine remains on. Groove also includes a rewards system that gives points and prizes for drivers that keep their focus (rather than interacting with their phones) during trips.

AT&T has a somewhat similar app-based system called DriveMode, thought DriveMode kicks in at 15 mph and can be turned off (though it can also notify parents, for example, if teen users disable the app).

As Forbes recently reported, Americans are habituated - practically speaking, addicted - to looking at their phone when it rings or buzzes. The problem is clearly dangerous to drivers but also to pedestrians and cyclists - in fact our whole transportation system is endangered by the constant distractions of ever-present screens.

But of course, admitting we have a problem is only a first step, and not an easy one for us to take, societally. Groove ran an Indiegogo campaign last month that failed miserably. The technology is available, but getting support from carriers (who are worried about legal implications) and from the public may not be seamless.

Groove's parent company Katasi hopes to have a product ready for release in 2015. The company's CEO Tibbitts told Katie Couric that he expects the controller to cost about $30 and the service itself to be about $8 per month.

Distracted driving has a solution, but will we embrace it?
Man #1 didn't make it to a meeting, killed by a distracted driver. Man #2, whose meeting was cancelled, vowed to end distracted driving. What he invented is called Groove.

Related Content on Treehugger.com