Car Key Device Blocks Cell Phone Use While Driving

A new automobile ignition key can prevent teenagers from talking on cell phones or sending text messages while driving.

The invention, by researchers at the University of Utah, is called Key2SafeDriving and is aimed at cutting down on road deaths. It relies on Bluetooth technology to wirelessly connect keys to phones.

"The key to safe driving is to avoid distraction," says Xuesong Zhou, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering who co-invented the system with Wally Curry, a University of Utah graduate now practicing medicine in Hays, Kan. "We want to provide a simple, cost-effective solution to improve driving safety."

Motor vehicle accidents are the fifth leading cause of all deaths in the country. Among teens, however, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death.

The university has obtained provisional patents and licensed the invention to a private company that hopes to see it on the market within six months at a cost of less than $50 per key plus a yet-undetermined monthly service fee, according to a statement released today.

Zhou says that "at any given time, about 6 percent of travelers on the road are talking on a cell phone while driving. Also at any given time, 10 percent of teenagers who are driving are talking or texting."

The setup could help parents secure lower insurance rates.

"Using our system you can prove that teen drivers are not talking while driving, which can significantly reduce the risk of getting into a car accident," Zhou said.

The system includes a device that encloses a car key — one for each teen driver or family member. The device connects wirelessly with each key user's cell phone via either Bluetooth or RFID (radio-frequency identification) technologies.

To turn on the engine, the driver must either slide the key out or push a button to release it. Then the device sends a signal to the driver's cell phone, placing it in "driving mode" and displaying a "stop" sign on the phone's display screen.

Incoming calls and texts are automatically answered with a message saying, "I am driving now. I will call you later when I arrive at the destination safely."

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