We could end the problem right now but...

Guest Bloggers

Guest Bloggers | Feb 21, 2011

What if I told you that we could end the problem of drivers using cellular phones to talk, text, surf or whatever-is-coming-next RIGHT NOW? Okay, let me rephrase that. I am telling you we could end the problem right now, or at least start on a path toward that end... but the solution is being held out of reach. Let me explain.

One solution that has been explored to solve the issue of distracted driving (at least for "carry on" devices) is to use some form of technology to prevent drivers from using their phones while the car is moving. There are a bunch of smart phone apps out there right now to do this very thing. (See: "Your Phone is Locked. Just Drive.")

Unfortunately, there are a variety of issues with these solutions. First, many of these solutions are voluntary. And we know how well people adhere to voluntary behaviors to improve health and safety... "Are you the driver?" one app might ask. "Umm, no I'm not..." (text text text). Some of these solutions are less voluntary, and rely on detecting driver movement to deactivate the phone. However, what if you are a passenger and need to use your phone? Or what if you are on the bus or train and your phone gets bricked by your safety app? Goodbye app! Some apps rely on installing equipment in cars, so they are more vehicle-specific, which is better, but still far from ideal. So, while these apps might work in some cases, they have big flaws.

Enter THE solution: in-vehicle-jamming. Imagine if you could just jam the driver space when the vehicle moved so drivers could not use their phones, but passengers could. Better still, imagine if the system is built into the vehicle so it can't be bypassed, but could be turned off by the driver if the hazard lights were turned on in the event that there was a real emergency that required drivers to use their phones.

It turns out, we aren't really in the realm of imagination at all. This technology exists and is manufactured by a company called Trinity Noble. But don't get excited yet, dear reader.

Why? Simply put, you can't get it because the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) won't let you have it. The FCC won't even let it be widely tested. Jeremy Chalmers, General Counsel for Trinity-Noble, explains: "The FCC has taken the position that they are prohibited by statute from certifying any 'jamming" device'. The CTIA has advocated strongly for the FCC to take this position."

And what is the CTIA? It's the cellular industry advocacy group,"representing its members with policy makers in the Executive Branch, in the Federal Communications Commission and in Congress." Why would the CTIA do such a thing? Trinity-Noble's Chalmers speculated, "I believe they are loath to open Pandora's box and are scared that if in-vehicle-jamming is allowed that will open the door to jammers in movie theaters and libraries...."

My guess? The CTIA lists 2009 wireless revenues at almost $200 billion dollars. A significant chunk of this revenue is from folks using cell phones in cars. Years ago an industry insider told me that number was near 80%, but lets say it is much less than that now. Even if it were only one-quarter of that now, that is still $40 billion dollars at stake of we jammed away all of those users. So don't get excited about solving the problem any time soon.

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