When David Teater's 12-year-old son, Joe, was killed in 2004 by a driver who was talking on a cell phone, he tried to cut back on his own habit of driving and talking. It turned out to be very difficult.
"You have to remember to turn the phone off ... which you never remember to do. Or you have to ignore a ringing phone, which is incredibly hard," Teater said. "We've been conditioned our entire lives to answer ringing phones."
Teater became an advocate for curbing what he calls "driving while distracted," and now, he's part of a company with a technology that can help.
Aegis Mobility, a Canadian software company, announced Monday that it has developed software called DriveAssistT that will detect whether a cell phone is moving at car speeds. When that happens, the software will alert the cellular network, telling it to hold calls and text messages until the drive is over.
The software doesn't completely block incoming calls. Callers will hear a message saying the person they're calling appears to be driving. They can hit a button to leave an emergency voice mail, which is put through immediately.
Several states, including New York and California, have introduced laws against talking on a cell phone while driving, but they still allow the use of hands-free devices like Bluetooth headsets. However, studies have shown that hands-free devices may not help. It appears that it is the distraction of dialing or talking that is dangerous, rather than the act of taking a hand off the wheel.
A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2006 found that dialing or talking on the phone was the cause in 7 percent of crashes and near-crashes. For the study, drivers had onboard "black boxes" that recorded their actions.
Last year, 41,059 people died in traffic accidents.
Aegis' software will work on phones with Windows Mobile software, popular for "smart" phones, or Symbian software, used in phones from Nokia and Sony Ericsson. It uses the phone's Global Positioning System chip to detect motion, aided by the cell-tower signal. If the phone has a Wi-Fi antenna, that can be used as well, said Dave Hattey, Aegis' CEO.
To work, the software has to be supported by the cellular carrier. Aegis has no deals in place yet, but is in discussions with the big U.S. networks, said Teater, who is a vice president at Aegis. The company hopes to be able to announce early next year that the software is available through a carrier, probably for $10 to $20 per month for a family.
The software can be managed remotely through a Web site. For instance, parents will get alerts if their kids override the motion-sensing feature to indicate that they're riding in car rather than driving. A corporation that buys the software for their employees can do the same.
Unusually for the world of cell phone software, Aegis is bringing out DriveAssistT in partnership with an insurance company. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. said it plans to offer a discount of 3 percent to 10 percent on family policies for people who use DriveAssistT.