The device disables cell phones when a specially engineered car key is inserted in a car's ignition.
The Key2SafeDriving car key wirelessly disables cell phones. The device was developed by Xuesong Zhou, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the university. Zhou believes the device would have an eager market with parents worried about their teenagers driving and using their cell phones at the same time.
The device works like this: The system covers every driver in a car by connecting wirelessly via Bluetooth or RFID to cell phones and disables the phones. Blocked drivers can't make calls or use texting features on their phones with the exception of 911 calls and any phone numbers specifically programmed for use. For instance, parents could specify that phones be programmed so their children could call home. Incoming calls would receive a response reading, "I am driving now." When the car's engine is turned off, the cell phones would revert to normal usage.
Zhou believes the Key2SafeDriving device would appeal to insurance companies and cell phone service providers. Zhou has no current plans to market the device directly to consumers.
"At any given time, 10% of teenagers who are driving are talking or texting," Zhou said in a statement. "At any given time, about 6% of travelers on the road are talking on a cell phone while driving." While a direct correlation between cell phone usage and car accidents is still somewhat hazy, there is growing evidence that texting while driving is extremely distracting and can lead to car accidents.
University of Utah researchers, who have produced a series of studies on the dangers of drivers using cell phones while behind the wheel, maintain that some studies demonstrate that drivers using cell phones are about four times as likely to get in a crash as drivers not using cell phones.
The device, which was co-developed by Utah University graduate Dr. Wally Curry, is covered by patents that have been licensed to Key2SafeDriving. The initial stimulus for the device came from Curry, who, after observing a teenage girl driving while texting, worried that his young daughters one day might be tempted to do the same dangerous activity. Curry and Zhou then developed the Key2SafeDriving device.