Texting while driving has become such an insurmountable problem that even state laws ban phone use behind the wheel. In fact, more than nine people people are killed and an upwards of 1,060 people are injured in crashes involving distracted driving every single day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As more plugged-in generations get behind the wheel, safety advocates are realizing the importance of finding a solution to quell the texting-while-driving epidemic altogether.
Katasi, a Colorado-based startup supported by American Family Insurance, is one of those companies chasing the answer by developing technology to cut the plug. The system works with phone carriers to identify which one of their customers is driving and blocks the delivery of data and texts to that phone while it’s moving.
Founder Scott Tibbitts, a 57-year-old former chemical engineer, spent the last five years developing the technology and partnered with American Family Insurance and Sprint to get Katasi off the ground.
Tibbitts first struck an interest for the growing concern over distracted driving in 2008, when he arrived at a business meeting in Denver. Unfortunately, the executive he was meeting with had been killed in a car accident that morning involving a teenager who was texting, the New York Times reports.
The company’s product (dubbed the Groove) is a small box which connects to a socket beneath the steering wheel. The driver simply plugs it in, sends a text message to a provided number and incoming and outgoing distractions disappear.
Using a phone’s global positioning system (GPS), the car’s telematics (a telecommunications and mobility system that sends a wireless message that a car is moving) as well as other data points, Katasi’s algorithm determines who is behind the wheel. For instance, if a car belonging to a family is taking a trip from home to school, and both parents’ phones have been located at work while the child is in the car, the child has been identified as the driver, reports the New York Times.
But Katasi does have its limits. If all members are in the car, Katasi doesn’t typically block the messages, operating on the presumption that a passenger will stop the driver from texting, according to the Times.
The company is working with two phone carriers, including Sprint, and expects to launch with a to-be-determined anchor carrier next year, according to Katasi’s Indiegogo campaign.
With a rise in distracted driving-caused accidents and the growing dependency on smartphones, it’s important to see more companies focus on finding a way to end the texting-while-driving habit. Other tools include Text Ya Later, an app developed in Texas which answers incoming texts with an auto response.
But perhaps it’s about changing a culture of always being online, along with promoting attentive driving by mandating technology like Katasi and Text Ya Later that will ultimately make the roads a safer place.