Device prohibits cell phone use while driving

By Lana Groves, Asst. News Editor

Wally Curry’s 14-year-old daughter is taking drivers education classes this year and he’s worried about whether she will drive while talking on a cell phone.

Instead of living in fear of a possible car crash, Curry, a U accounting alumnus who completed his medical residency at the U Hospital, helped develop a car key that shuts down cell phone use while the key is in the ignition.

“It will be totally disabled,” Curry said. “If you try to send a message, it will send a message to an insurance company or your parents. If someone tries to call or text you, they’ll receive a message saying that you’re driving.”

Curry and U civil and environmental engineering professor Xuesong Zhou developed the key, which sends out a bluetooth signal to the driver’s cell phone when it’s in the ignition to disable the phone.

U psychologists David Strayer and Frank Drews came out with results two years ago revealing that drivers who talk on their cell phone or text are impaired more than someone with a blood alcohol level of .08.

Strayer, who used simulation tests to show the impairment of hands-free cell phone drivers, said anything that could prevent teenagers or other drivers from talking on their phones will make roads safer for everyone.

“While talking on a cell phone, you’re four times more likely to get in an accident,” he said. “If you’re text messaging, you’re at least six times more likely.”

Teenagers, who account for about 7 percent of all drivers, cause 14 percent of accidents in the U.S., according to the cell phone study.

Zhou said they will talk to insurance companies about using the Key2SafeDriving device to keep track of teenagers who try to talk on their phones and limiting insurance costs because teen drivers won’t be as distracted by phones.

AAA insurance spokeswoman Roylane Fairclough said if the key works, it could have a positive impact in the future, but said that she wasn’t sure whether it would lower insurance rates.

However, Drews said he is more concerned about creating another piece of technology to prevent people from using technology.

“It would be much, much more effective if you can convince people that it’s a bad idea,” Drews said. “Teenagers are very creative. If they don’t want to use this type of technology, they’ll find a way around it.”

While the key could be used for anyone, Zhou said they are promoting it mainly for the used of teenage drivers. Parents can buy the device and monitor whether their children are trying to use cell phones while driving. They can also set aside certain numbers teenagers can call or receive calls from, including parents or other emergency numbers.

The U has received patents for the device and is working with Accendo LC, a marketing company out of Kaysville, Utah, to make the key available for drivers in about six months.

Zhou said the key will cost less than $50 to set up and they are looking to make it available for all car keys.
Even when the key is available, Matt James, a junior biology major, said he doesn’t think he’ll get one for himself.
“I can see how it will be a good thing while driving,” James said. “But at the same time, a couple weeks ago I drove by a bus stop and saw a guy in a wheel chair who had fallen out and was lying in the gutter. I called the police so they could help him.”

Cali Yost, an undecided sophomore, said a lot of people who are talking to someone but need to leave don’t want to hang up the conversation, but she thinks it would be better if they did.

“It should be for everyone, not just teenagers,” Yost said. “Businessmen talk on their phones all the time.”
Curry said colleagues and patients call him all the time while he’s driving to his work as a urologist for Western Kansas Urological Associates in Hays, Kan. When the device becomes available, he said he will get one for his eldest daughter and himself.

“It’s just risky to drive and talk,” he said. “Just think about how young these drivers are and how many of them use cell phones. It’s better not to.”

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