RI lawmaker: Device can stop texting while driving


Rhode Island may enlist some high-tech help in the fight against texting while driving: a device that jams most cell phone capabilities when a vehicle’s engine is running.

A state lawmaker has proposed legislation to require those caught texting while driving to install such a device. The equipment is wired to a vehicle’s engine and alerts the driver’s cell phone when the engine is on. Software installed on the phone then disables texting or email capabilities. Phones without the software aren’t affected.

Several companies manufacture the technology. Rhode Island would be the first state to require its use for those found in violation of a texting-while-driving ban. A House committee plans to review the proposal Wednesday.

“Texting while driving is such a dangerous thing to do,” Rep. Charlene Lima, D-Cranston, said. “This would make sure a person who has been found guilty of doing this won’t do it again.”

The idea occurred to Lima after she watched a segment about the technology on a morning news show. She said the idea is a natural extension of ignition interlock technology, which prevents those convicted of drunk driving from operating their vehicle if they’ve been drinking.

Lima said she also wants to require the devices on police and fire vehicles and in the driver’s seats of buses and other public transportation.

If lawmakers endorse Lima’s proposal, the state will be able to choose from several products in a burgeoning field.

Taser International, the maker of the Taser stun gun, launched a technology two months ago that allows parents to control children’s cell phone use while driving. The system prohibits texting or emailing while the phone user’s car is moving. It can be modified to only accept phone calls from certain numbers, or to block all calls while the car is moving. Calls to 911 are still allowed.

“We have a number of people at the company that have teenage drivers at home and it made them want to look into this,” said Doug Fallon, project manager at Taser. “Traffic collisions are the No. 1 killer of teens. Cell phones are a big problem. This takes that temptation away.”

Taser’s product retails for $249.95, with a monthly $14.95 service charge.

Competing products detect when a phone is traveling at high speeds and automatically disable texting and emailing abilities. Another works by detecting when a vehicle is put in gear.

But even manufacturers acknowledge the technology isn’t perfect. Virtually all the products will only work with the user’s phone and car. The technology doesn’t work on iPhones or most older-style cell phones.

“It’s a solution, but it’s not foolproof by any means,” said John Fischer, CEO of Try Safety First Inc., a company that developed its own version of the technology. “A smart kid could uninstall it.”

Rhode Island outlawed texting while driving two years ago. Violators now face an $85 fine.

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