Thursday, April 16, 2009

Have they thought this through?

Who says people wouldn't put these devices elsewhere than in cars?
Cincinatti, OH (AHN) - A UPS delivery driver turned inventor has come up with technology that blocks a driver from using a cell phone.

Inventor Fred Wenz and a partner have a provisional patent on a device that blocks cell phone signals within a 5-foot radius. The pair formed the company Try Safety First and are reportedly seeking investment capital to begin production of the device with an estimated $10 retail price.

Wenz reportedly began working on the device after becoming upset over the growing number of drivers who were paying more attention to cell phone conversations than they were to their driving and who became safety hazards.

The device was patterned after technology that prevents a drunk driver from driving.

However, critics say that the 5-foot radius is too large and that in many cars it would block passengers in the back seat from making cell phone calls and it could even interfere with occupants in another car that pulled alongside at a stop light.
While on a run a few years ago, he came up with the idea for a device that blocks cell signals around a driver's seat. It's modeled on ignition locks that make a convicted drunken driver blow into an alcohol tester before the car will run.

"I witness it every day on the road, and I just thought, 'There has to be a way that you can prevent this electronically,' " says Wenz, 40.

Wenz and longtime friend John Fischer have formed Try Safety First and filed a provisional patent on what they call the owner compliance key (or OCK) late last year.

The device blocks signals to and from cellphones for a 5-foot radius, effectively the space around a driver's seat. It also can be set to be effective only on a secondary key, such as one a parent gives a teen.
Is this device designed only for functioning in cars? Or for ten dollars would we see people putting these all over the place? Shut down cell phone access in a place you want to rob, say? Deliberately mess with cell phone talkers in elevators? Teenager's rooms?

They also need to address this:
There is also the issue of the 1934 federal law that bans jamming commercial radio signals, including cellular transmissions. But the duo say their safety argument is strong enough to merit an exemption – much like the television industry was granted in 1996 for the v-chip, which lets parents block inappropriate content for their children.

And experts disagree over whether talking on a cell is enough of a distraction to merit a legal ban - especially when the overall number of accidents is declining. But that is exactly why Wenz and Fischer believe their product is the perfect solution.

But in addition to trying to secure funding, Wenz and Fischer are lobbying to have their technology made mandatory in all U.S. vehicles, a novel yet time-consuming approach to creating demand. They have had audiences with several regulatory agencies as well as U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate minority leader. The strategy is to get regulations in place to require automakers to include such technology in new cars, thereby instantly creating customers.

Fischer acknowledges it has been slow going, especially with U.S. automakers, even though he proposes selling it as an option at first for $99, which he says could net General Motors as much as $1 billion in extra revenue a year. At the same time, auto industry has presented other technologies, most notably the hands-free Sync system created by Ford in conjunction with Microsoft.
Wouldn't enforcement and heavy fines for cell phone usage while driving do the trick? Traffic school for the parents as well as the teen? Removal of a driver's license for the under 20 crowd? Make it an emphatic part of the driver's ed program?

I'd rather be able to call in an emergency such as a collision than try to figure out that the car I've been hit by has one of these devices shutting off my 911 calls....


Anonymous said...

You said "Wouldn't enforcement and heavy fines for cell phone usage while driving do the trick?" Yes, just as enforcement and heavy fines has prevented people from driving over the speed limit. :)

Also, they have thought of the "emergency" concern that you had -- the blocking only happens when the car is moving.

ellroon said...

Glad to hear it, because it was really bothering me that there would be these devices disrupting cell phone calls out there.

Would it affect other cars whose passengers would be on the phone or specifically the phone of the driver? Could it be modified and used in a static mode to shut someone down in say a house or a dorm?

I have children who are driving and about to drive and it soothes me that they are a cell phone call away from assistance if needed. I trust they are more worried about getting a ticket for talking on the phone and the subsequent wrath of the parental units than thinking it's cool to chat or text while driving unsupervised.

But there is always those unpredictable scary scenarios: being followed by a mysterious car where she doesn't dare stop but must call for help while looking for safety, being forced into her own car by a thug and she must dial for help in the trunk, or that one famous incident where a young girl gets her car hooked to a train and is being dragged along (called her mom, who called the police who called the train company who called the engineer who stopped in time). Now that we have cell phones, I want to know I can count on them for the fantastic protection and assistance they afford.

I can accept using these devices as punishment on people who have had a ticket for using the phone while driving, but still I feel uneasy blocking phones. If we could just work on the idiots behind the wheel...