There seems to have been a proliferaton of recent stories involving automobile, bus, tractor trailer truck, train, and boat crashes caused by distracted driving. There may be some very promising news on the distant horizon with respect to texting while driving an automobile. Clay Skelton, an IT engineer from Roanoke, Virginia, invented an ignition interlock system that prevents manual texting while driving. The device works by preventing the vehicle from starting unless a mobile phone is placed in an interior dock. Users can only use the docked phones through Bluetooth while driving.
This story was covered on December 4 in The Roanoke Times. The news is exciting. Indeed, Mr. Skelton was quoted as saying that he is proud that his 16-year-old son “has never started a vehicle in his life without having to dock his phone first.” One assumes that once the vehicle is started, the phone cannot be removed from the dock. If effective, this will eliminate the manual and visual distractions involved with manually texting. It will not, however, address the cognitive distractions involved in texting. I suspect that there are some kinks that are going to have to be worked out before this product is able to achieve its full safety potential.
The reason for my suspicion is contained in the Roanoke Times article. While visiting the Virginia plastics factory where shell for the device is made, Senator Tim Kaine reportedly “started Skelton’s VW Golf after putting his own cellphone in the required dock.” If this means that the interlock device will allow the vehicle to be started by any mobile phone, not just by the driver’s mobile phone, one can imagine all of the various ways the teenagers and other drivers will be able to override the system. The device is for drivers who are so addicted to texting that they cannot force themselves not to text while driving. How likely is it that such an addict will not figure out a way to have a second mobile phone in the vehicle- one to allow the vehicle to start and another for texting. The technology is promising. More work needs to be done.