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Transportation Cellphones Communications Technology

Technological Solution For Texting While Driving Struggles For Traction 326

An anonymous reader writes: While legislators and police try to tackle the epidemic of distracted driving through education, regulation, and enforcement, Scott Tibbitts is trying to solve it through engineering. He developed a small device which, when plugged into a vehicle, would determine which phone belonged to the driver and shut off its texting and voice call capabilities. "The telematics box sends a wireless message that the car is moving. The phone sends its own message about its location. Both sets of information — from the car and phone — are sent to Katasi's servers. Then, an algorithm weighs the incoming data with other information, like the location of the phones belonging to all the people who drive the car and the starting point of the trip; if the trip starts at Junior's high school, and mom and dad's phones are at work, the driver has been identified — Junior is driving."

The problem is that Tibbitts can't get anyone interested in setting up a system to make these devices ubiquitous. Consumers can't be sold on such a product: all evidence suggests people are increasingly unwilling to be cut off from constant communication. So, he tried working with carriers. Sprint partnered with Tibbitts long enough to test the device, but they were afraid of the legal risks involved. Now, Tibbitts is nursing the technology along, looking for a way to get it into cars and make people safer.
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Technological Solution For Texting While Driving Struggles For Traction

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  • by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:07PM (#47899881)

    If someone has so little self-control as to be unable to avoid talking or texting while driving, why are we allowing them to drive in the first place?

    The energy in a 4,000lb vehicle moving at 40-60 mph is considerable.

    Perhaps we need stricter drivers license requirements?

    • If someone has so little self-control as to be unable to avoid talking or texting while driving, why are we allowing them to drive in the first place?

      It is against the law pretty much everywhere. However that law is enforced pretty much nowhere. It is just simply too difficult to enforce it, as a police officer has to catch the person in the act to even write a ticket. And then the ticket is so laughably small in terms of the monetary penalty as to be pointless to even write.

      In other words, people do it because they (wrongly) think they can do it safely, and then (unfortunately correctly) believe that they have nearly a zero chance of getting busted for it.

      • Is it against the law almost everywhere?

        I really only know about locally... The only place here it is illegal is in school zones.. otherwise, talk and text away while driving...

        • Is it against the law almost everywhere?

          I really only know about locally... The only place here it is illegal is in school zones.. otherwise, talk and text away while driving...

          Texting while driving in most places can be classified as distracted driving. It doesn't need a special classification; if you were reading the newspaper while driving you could be pulled over and fined for that, texting is often handled the same way.

          Some places have additional statutes and fines on the matter, but that is just to try to raise awareness - or revenue.

          • I see your point...

            Several cities around here have suggested passing a ban with fines attached... They HAVE passed bans on talking or texting while in school zones, so by implication it is fine outside of those areas.

            In my experience (and from talking to others), no one has ever heard of anyone pulled over for it for "distracted driving". They are making too much money on speeding tickets.

            A friend of mine recently was nailed for 40 in a 20 mph school zone, she was pulling out of a Toyota dealership on a s

            • If you want to give it some teeth, and get some free publicity, in addition to the fine add automatic confiscation of the phone and watch the world explode.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by greenbird ( 859670 )

        It is against the law pretty much everywhere. However that law is enforced pretty much nowhere. It is just simply too difficult to enforce it, as a police officer has to catch the person in the act to even write a ticket. And then the ticket is so laughably small in terms of the monetary penalty as to be pointless to even write.

        Make the punishment fit the crime. If you're swinging a loaded gun around pointing it at people and unintentionally shoot someone you're going to jail. You drive around like a jackass, speeding, weaving in traffic, running lights or stop signs, at worse you get a ticket that cost a little bit of money. And yet far more people are killed by idiot drivers than are by gun accidents. It's completely irrational.

        It's simple. The first ticket is a freebie, a $1000 and lose your license for a day. The second ticket

      • Well, driving a car with a manual gearbox makes talking on the phone while driving (without using handsfree equipment) inconvenient (unless I am driving on a straight long road). I never text while driving. SMS is low priority and high latency to me - I will reply when I can. If it is urgent to you - call.

        However, this device seems pointless. I have to buy it and install it in my car. Even assuming it can work with my older phones (a Nokia E90 and a Nokia 1100), I could, you know, just don't use the phone w

      • by mlts ( 1038732 )

        There is one tool I've found that has come in handy: A dash cam. If we get more people using these, some texter denying their actions would be proven wrong (assuming the camera has a good shot and the footage is detailed enough) in both civil and criminal courts.

        Put the fear of $DEITY into people that if they cause a wreck... someone has a dash cam of the situation and will be more than happy to put that video on YouTube for a DA, opposing lawyers, insurance company, and cow-orkers to see, it might just s

    • It's also an overcomplicated solution. OBD can get pretty nasty if you want access to esoteric stuff or manufacturer proprietary crap; but a basic, bluetooth-capable, OBD dongle that'll report the rough outlines of how a vehicle is being used is quite cheap indeed and not especially complex. I wouldn't necessarily want to try dead-reconing with nothing but that output; but answering "Am I driving right now?" is considerably less demanding.
    • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @12:09AM (#47900149)

      A policeman in Los Angeles killed a man by answering emails while driving.

      He was not even charged with a crime for it because apparently by answering police department email it was all in the service of the badge.

      In this context... they continue to go after people that might answer a text while driving whether people are even injured or not.

      Don't get me wrong... you shouldn't answer texts while driving. But I am incensed that the police officer is not even put on trial for manslaughter or negligent homicide.

      If the police need to answer email while driving, then either give them automated cars or require them to have two police officers in every car. Short of that... they should be paying attention to driving while driving. Until that is a rule, I can't take this whole topic seriously.

      • by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @12:34AM (#47900229)

        I simply agree... The police don't seem to feel they are subject to the same laws they are enforcing... which is a shame, and backwards to how it should be (they should be held to a stricter standard).

        • After a few accidents caused by drunk cops driving (that actually injuredor killed people) in my country, the new law is that if a cop is caught drunk behind the wheel, he can start looking for a new job (in addition to whatever punishment a non-cop would get in the same situation).

          • What is sad is that it took a new law for that to happen...

            That should just have been the default position...

          • in US that would be nice in theory, but guess what who would be the ones to catch the drunk cop behind the wheel? another cop. so you can guess how that will go down.
    • by epyT-R ( 613989 )

      Fines won't stop this just like they don't stop speeding. Fines are just tax revenue for the state. The answer is to remove the incentive to use the damn phone while driving. Maybe just rewrite the software running the towers to pick up relative motion of a node exceeding a certain speed (either from the phone's gps or from triangulation), it disables the interface, or at least disallows certain traffic (like sms).

      Perhaps a better solution to idiocy is to let darwin take his course in society a bit more in

    • by silfen ( 3720385 )

      Perhaps we need stricter drivers license requirements?

      Because, as we all know, if we pass laws and impose stricter requirements, it fixes everything! It worked so well for the war on drugs!

      But I suppose once we're all in prison, we can't drive-and-text anymore. Good suggestion!

      • It works in some places like South Africa and Germany, where people know how to drive...

        • by epyT-R ( 613989 )

          Well if they know how to drive then they wouldn't need the laws in the first place. Either way the laws are useless.

      • Perhaps we need stricter drivers license requirements?

        It worked so well for the war on drugs!

        Yeah, because prohibition and licensing are the same thing!

    • It says "people are increasingly unwilling to be cut off from constant communication". In those cases I suggest putting those types of people in some sort of rehabilitation facility. If you are unable to stop using your Phone, then my friend, it's called an addiction and they can get very dangerous for you and especially others if you are unwilling to control yourself.

      Most people will say they "need" a phone or a some other form of technology; no you don't. Water, Food and a place to live are needs and othe

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hey I've got a technical solution to this problem, too: TURN OFF THE MOTHERFUCKING PHONE!

    • by epyT-R ( 613989 )

      but but that would require people to take responsibility. How dare you suggest they shouldn't be coddled and denied their pity parties!

  • Won't work (Score:4, Interesting)

    by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:12PM (#47899899) Homepage Journal

    I predict idiots putting their phones in the passenger seat, and leaning over in addition to their previous phone use. Unless this is a device that can be unplugged, in which case they'll unplug it and then use their phone.

    The technological solution to this problem is self-driving cars.

    • Re:Won't work (Score:5, Insightful)

      by icebike ( 68054 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:40PM (#47900055)

      I'm sure as hell not going to allow even MORE TRACKING just to support this hair brained scheme, Track everyone who ever rode in that car just to maker sure they aren't driving it?

      Phones and car kits already offer to reply that the owner is driving, or to read it aloud, and take a reply verbally. There is no excuse t go all NSA on every passenger.

    • The technological solution to this problem is self-driving cars.

      Amen, those can't get here fast enough...

      But then what will police depts do for money when they no longer have to write $6.2 BILLION dollars worth of traffic tickets?

      After all, self-driving cars should be very legal drivers.

      • But then what will police depts do for money when they no longer have to write $6.2 BILLION dollars worth of traffic tickets?

        After all, self-driving cars should be very legal drivers.

        Could have sworn I read about a place that made it illegal to follow every traffic law (because the only people who would do that are people carrying drugs and they don't want to be pulled over). But I can't find it again.

  • A different tack (Score:4, Interesting)

    by damn_registrars ( 1103043 ) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:13PM (#47899903) Homepage Journal
    How about we just put lights on top of cars that light up brightly when a text message is being sent from anyone in the car? Then the rest of the drivers on the road can avoid those idiots, as the ones who have texting passengers in the car (aside from taxis and such) are generally no better than the ones who are attempting to text while driving.

    The bright light would also make it easier for cops to know who to pull over when they are doing enhanced patrols for these shit-heads as well.
    • I find that "taxis and such" are actually more prone to this issue. A few months ago (Chicago suburb) a taxi (town car) driver pick me and a few others up, was texting and talking on his phone the whole way, almost killed us several times on the highway. He was not just texting, he was talking with a headset while reserving things with his phone. This is worse than texting and should be controlled. I know for a fact that most of these drivers in at least NY and Chicago are constantly on their phones whi

    • by silfen ( 3720385 )

      How about we just put lights on top of cars that light up brightly when a text message is being sent from anyone in the car?

      Great! I suggest warning lights for food, babies, and makeup in cars as well, because those are serious and dangerous distractions as well.

    • by Dan541 ( 1032000 )

      How often do you see more than one person in a car anyway?

  • by BarbaraHudson ( 3785311 ) <barbarahudson@NOSPaM.gmail.com> on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:16PM (#47899911) Journal
    Fines and public education work better than a technical solution to stupidity. People understand when it hits their wallet directly and when their phones are confiscated.
    • Fines and public education work better than a technical solution to stupidity.

      Unfortunately it appears that fines and education have been completely ineffective on the matter. I lived in a place for several years that would have annual campaigns to discourage drivers from texting while driving, followed by announced enhanced enforcement of the offense.

      So what happened? Were people at least smart enough to send fewer messages during the enhanced enforcement period? No. Not even close. Every year the tallies went up.

      People understand when it hits their wallet directly

      For one, most of the people doing this are young and their in

      • Sure, every year the tallies went up - but so did the number of users. Hit them with $500 - $1000 fines for distracted driving, impound the vehicle for 30 days, 9 demerit points, and permanently confiscate the phone, and they'll be so much less likely to repeat. And their friends will get the message soon enough.
      • by Dan541 ( 1032000 )

        Although again as the offenders far more often than not are getting everything they need from their parents, confiscation won't do much but prevent them from sending messages for the next 24 hours or so.

        These are people who can't go for 10 minutes without texting. Think what 24hours will do.

    • Fines and public education work better than a technical solution to stupidity. People understand when it hits their wallet directly and when their phones are confiscated.

      Not really. How much a fine affects someone is directly related to how much money they have. You can't have a fine that's fair across economic brackets. Better and more democratic than fines is taking away their driving privileges. That solves the problem in 2 ways. Add to that, if you drive without a license you go to jail for a year. No exceptions.

  • Nobody wants this (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pumpkin Tuna ( 1033058 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:17PM (#47899927)

    See, here's the thing. Fuck Scott Tibbitts.
    I don't want his technology. There are so many scenarios where this would unnecessarily screw up my life. What if I'm driving and my wife wants to use my phone to answer a call? That's just one.

    More importantly, my car has a built in hands free that I can operate by voice. Why should I not be allowed to use it.

    If we really want to make the roads safer, give me the power to arrest the dipshits that fly around me on the Interstate doing 20 miles above the speed limit and changing lanes like they are at Daytona.

    • by jimhill ( 7277 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:33PM (#47900017) Homepage

      Seriously, fuck this guy. His next step since he can't get anyone to buy his product voluntarily will be to explain to some legislators over dinner (his treat) and maybe a round of golf (ditto) why it's a good idea for them to mandate it. One way or another, our boy Scotty gonna get paid.

    • "If we really want to make the roads safer, give me the power to arrest the dipshits".....

      You that guy from Florida? The one who took the law into his own hands?

  • Wrong Solution (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This is the wrong solution. People hate driving in general. Before texting was a thing, I would observe people reading the NYT (full blown page open in front of their steering wheel) while commuting to work.

    Driving is boring, and people use whatever means possible to give themselves something interesting to do while it's occurring. Put the research into voice recognition. It's always been easier to talk than to type.

    • People hate driving in general.

      Not all people, but a lot of people do...

      Self-driving cars is the proper technology solution to this problem...

    • by Strider- ( 39683 )

      People hate driving in general.

      Eh, not everyone does. I quite enjoy driving, I don't even mind being stuck in traffic, as long as I've got the CBC or NPR on the dial...

      That said, I keep (handsfree) call short and sweet, and the only time I would ever check/send a text is stopped at a red light (which is still a ticketable offence here).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    To call the police and report unsafe drivers. Why would anyone want to take that away from me?

  • A big reason why a technical solution like doesn't work (isn't accepted by the masses) is because it requires someone knowing the location of the phones. In this article, it says it checks the location specifically to determine who the likely driver is. I'm not going to give a third party who is not strictly regulated in how and what can be done with this information permission to track my location 24/7 in order to tell if I'm driving my car or someone else is just to disable communications.

    • by stoploss ( 2842505 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @12:11AM (#47900153)

      I'm not going to give a third party who is not strictly regulated in how and what can be done with this information permission to track my location 24/7 in order to tell if I'm driving my car or someone else is just to disable communications.

      This. I can't believe he thought his solution was reasonable when "all" it has to do is have a database of where your family works, goes to school, which cars you own, and, of course track your entire family's location 24/7.

      FFS, I'm an engineer and I take special delight in degenerate solutions, but this is fucked up.

      Maybe this is a degenerate solutions competitive. Okay, let me try one of my own: we will have one member of the Stasi handcuffed to every licensed driver in the country, 24/365. Their job will be to monitor everyone's driving and ensure that the law is being abided. No, of *course* the Stasi member won't share the personal, private aspects of your life with the government... they're just there to keep everyone safe!

  • This seems ripe with technical flaws, first it assumes that only known persons would ever operate the vehicle; secondly it presumes that the owner can't let anyone else in the vehicle use their phone.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is completely ignoring the fact that anyone in the car could be using the phone. There have been plenty of times I've been in the car when the driver gets a call and I answer it, or call someone from their phone because they had the number pre-programmed, or I'm looking up direction (or doing anything else) on their phone because their's is better than mine. While phones have become sort-of personal devices (for all you upper class families who can afford the luxury of having smart phones and data pl

  • bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by silfen ( 3720385 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:38PM (#47900041)

    His "solution" is utter bullshit, trying to capitalize on "think of the children", helicopter parenting, and potential legislation.

    It's usually easy to tell whether a driver involved in an accident was texting and the penalties can be stiff (including manslaughter or vehicular homicide).

    Furthermore, the right company to partner with are insurance companies, but they already have a better mechanism for monitoring in place: they don't care whether you text per se, they care whether you drive erratically for any reason. For lower insurance rates, you can agree to monitoring. Nice voluntary solution and incentive.

    Finally, if there is a technical solution to be developed, it's a good voice-based, hands-free texting app that lets you text with a Bluetooth headset. Phone calls and voice interfaces are legal in most places, and will likely remain so. That's also something many people would use voluntarily because it is both safer and convenient.

    • His "solution" is utter bullshit, trying to capitalize on "think of the children", helicopter parenting, and potential legislation.

      It's usually easy to tell whether a driver involved in an accident was texting and the penalties can be stiff (including manslaughter or vehicular homicide).

      Furthermore, the right company to partner with are insurance companies, but they already have a better mechanism for monitoring in place: they don't care whether you text per se, they care whether you drive erratically for any reason. For lower insurance rates, you can agree to monitoring. Nice voluntary solution and incentive.

      Finally, if there is a technical solution to be developed, it's a good voice-based, hands-free texting app that lets you text with a Bluetooth headset. Phone calls and voice interfaces are legal in most places, and will likely remain so. That's also something many people would use voluntarily because it is both safer and convenient.

      My car has voice texting capabilities. Unfortunately, it's tied into the subscription model for the car computer. You can get texts read back to you for free but you have to subscribe to enable the voice text feature. Until car manufacturers offer this for free, no one is going to be any safer.

      The solution that this guy developed is dead on arrival for the same reason. No one is interested in paying additional money just to have their cell phone shut down and their vehicle tracked on a cloud computer.

      • by silfen ( 3720385 )

        I think the solution is just to have good Android and iPhone apps doing this. People have tried, but they haven't gotten the dialog quite right yet. I expect in a couple of years, they will.

    • by mpe ( 36238 )
      It's usually easy to tell whether a driver involved in an accident was texting and the penalties can be stiff (including manslaughter or vehicular homicide).

      Should there actually be special laws along the lines of "vehicular homicide" especially given that they potentially allow someone to literally "get away with murder".
      • by silfen ( 3720385 )

        It's basically just "negligent homicide". Some states make a distinction because it's easier to convict. Unless you specifically intend to kill someone, it is not "murder", and the existence of "vehicular homicide" statutes doesn't preclude a charge of murder.

        (In different words, your entire response was complete nonsense.)

  • by Sarusa ( 104047 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:41PM (#47900059)

    Another engineer who thinks he can cobble up a single technological solution to a social problem.

    This is the same sort of hubris that has legislators passing random crap to 'fix' a problem with zero understanding of the problem or the consequences of their solution. It's arrogance. For one, it assumes you're smarter (or at least sharper) than the people you're trying to control.

    (Disclaimer: I'm an engineer.)

  • by jbolden ( 176878 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @11:48PM (#47900077) Homepage

    Anyone understands how this works? There are a lot of data features of my phone that pair with driving. GPS being an obvious one with traffic updates. Another is podcast downloads. And if those data networks are open then I assume most texting services other than SMS work. SMS I figure for most people is a tiny percentage of their traffic at this point. So unless they are blacklisting particular services...?

    And of course phone calls have to work: reliable phone while driving is the main reason I own a cell phone in the first place. I assume I'm not alone in this.

    I think easy would be adding to automated responses for all messaging services, "Driving, need to give you a long response, call my cell."

    • by silfen ( 3720385 )

      I think easy would be adding to automated responses for all messaging services, "Driving, need to give you a long response, call my cell."

      There are several apps for that.

  • The smartphone crowd assumes they own the user's eyeballs. They don't. What's needed is better voice integration. You should be able to call, receive calls, text, and receive texts via a Bluetooth headset with the phone in your pocket.

    Android sucks at this. My Samsung flip-phone had better voice dialing than my Android phone. Wildfire [wildfirevi...istant.com], which is from 1997, did this quite well. But it was really expensive to do back then, and was priced as high as $250/month. Then Microsoft bought Wildfire and abandoned th

  • Instead of making it more difficult to text while driving - why not make it easier? People are going to do it so why not have speech to text conversions and heads up displays so people don't have to take their hands or eyes off the wheel and road. The technology is already out there, people will use it even when it is irresponsible to do so - so instead why not just make it safer and easier so that people can get on with driving?

    There is no law out there that has more influence than a partner, child or ob

  • A Darwinian solution to the problem is right on track!
  • I sometimes use the driver's phone to send a text message (we're stuck and traffic and will be late), or use the GPS function (again, on the driver's phone).

    Unless it can determine if the phone's in the driver's or passenger's hands, it's a very bad idea.

  • What if you're using a tethered handsfree device to call the police? Why does it need to remember all this stuff instead of relying on a triangulating antenna system? What happens if there's 2 GSM/LTE devices in the front left?
  • The problem isn't how do we make people safer drivers.

    The problem is how do we make people NOT the drivers. Then we don't have to worry about whether they are texting.

  • I'm not convinced that this is a problem that needs a solution, but to me, a simple solution to the problem is this:

    Start the car with the cell phone. In that way, which cell phone is associated with the driver is simple.

    A more detailed disclosure follows:

    Instead of starting the car with a key or a button, start the car by sending a text message. The car then blocks sending text messages by that phone for as long as the car is moving, (or in an alternative embodiment, as long as the car is operating). This

  • by Jody Bruchon ( 3404363 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @10:36AM (#47902009)
    Root phone. Remove nanny state functionality. End of thread.

Bringing computers into the home won't change either one, but may revitalize the corner saloon.

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