Every day in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over nine people die and 1,060 people are injured in highway crashes, because of texting, talking or emailing from a cellphone while they drive.
A new device, the Groove by Katasi, a Colorado high-tech firm, could save lives by shutting down cellphone Internet access automatically when drivers start their cars, but legal considerations are keeping the device off the market.
Katasi's Scott Tibbitts, a former NASA chemical engineer, forged alliances with Sprint and American Family Insurance, to develop and demonstrate how his device could save lives, but when Sprint took a closer look at the legal implications of developing the gadget, they backed off, according to The New York Times
"It’s so hugely frustrating," Tibbitts told the Times. “I’ve put five years of my life into this. We’ve put in millions. I’m convinced there’s a great business and convinced it will save a bunch of lives.”
By CDC estimates
, 3,331 people were killed and 387,000 injured in 2011 from distracted driving, mostly caused by cellphone use.
An estimated one in five crashes occurred through distracted driving, and 69 percent of drivers in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 64 said they talk on their cell phones and 31 percent say they read or send text messages or email while driving, according to the CDC.
This includes nearly half of all U.S. high school student drivers.
The device works by plugging into the "telematics," or OBD 2 post, that has been standard on all US cars since 1966, the Times reports. When the car is started, a wireless message goes to Katasi servers which, in turn, shut down the Internet cellphone access in seconds.
Sprint counsel Ray Rothermel termed the device "a good-sized weapon in the war against distracted driving." But ultimately, Walter Fowler, Sprint spokesman, said, “The technology works; the technology is there. It’s a matter of working out the legal issues. The legal uncertainty — that’s the major issue."
Should the technology fail, and one text message or email slip through, and cause an accident, Sprint feared they would be held legally liable, The Times reports.
Wayne Ward, Sprint vice president, told The Times, "If that one message does get through, and someone understood, 'I bought this and I’ll be safe,' what does that mean for our brand and our business?
"I’m protecting the brand of a $35 billion company."
On Katasi's website
, where the firm is trying to attract crowd-sourcing for revenue and has raised just $905 out of a $200,000 goal so far, the company is urging people to join the "Groove" movement.
"Taking your eyes off the road for five seconds to read a text is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field blindfolded. More than 3,000 people each year are killed by distracted driving."
While 45 states have enacted some form of prohibition against texting while driving, and while President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2009 forbidding federal employees from texting while driving, the project remains stalled, The Times reports.
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