Mistake-Proofing Cell Phones for Drivers

Sometimes the lean tool of mistake-proofing prevents people from doing something stupid. And sometimes people do stupid things while driving.

I wrote recently about how Ford is creating a car key that can be programmed to prevent the car from going above a certain speed. It is being marketed to parents whose children have reached driving age and may be inclined to drive too fast. The key can also prevent the radio from being played too loud and encourage the use of seat belts.

Another stupid thing young people – and old people – do is talk on their cell phones while driving. Many states have passed laws banning the practice unless the phone is hands-free (although studies have shown hands-free phones may not help because the driver is still distracted by the conversation).

But a law is not mistake-proofing. Mistake-proofing is when you make it impossible for a person to make a mistake (i.e., do something stupid).

I would have thought it was impossible to mistake-proof talking on a cell phone while driving. But a CNN article made me realize that I underestimated what technology can do.

Aegis Mobility, a Canadian software company, has developed software called DriveAssistT that will detect whether a cell phone is moving at car speeds. When that happens, the software will alert the cellular network, telling it to hold calls and text messages until the drive is over.

The software doesn't completely block incoming calls. Callers will hear a message saying the person they're calling appears to be driving. They can hit a button to leave an emergency voice mail, which is put through immediately…

Aegis' software will work on phones with Windows Mobile software, popular for "smart" phones, or Symbian software, used in phones from Nokia and Sony Ericsson. It uses the phone's Global Positioning System chip to detect motion, aided by the cell-tower signal. If the phone has a Wi-Fi antenna, that can be used as well, said Dave Hattey, Aegis' CEO.

To work, the software has to be supported by the cellular carrier. Aegis has no deals in place yet, but is in discussions with the big U.S. networks, said Teater, who is a vice president at Aegis. The company hopes to be able to announce early next year that the software is available through a carrier, probably for $10 to $20 per month for a family.

The software can be managed remotely through a Web site. For instance, parents will get alerts if their kids override the motion-sensing feature to indicate that they're riding in car rather than driving. A corporation that buys the software for their employees can do the same.

What will they think of next?