You would become a billionaire if you built a device to stop teens from texting and driving. The insurance companies would love it.
I think I figured out an elegant way to stop teens from texting. Yes, I could form a company to produce the product myself. But building a company takes time, and luck, and patent applications, and lots more. I would be dicking around trying to form a company while thousands of people die in the meantime.
So I’m going to release this idea for anyone who wants to take a run at it. I think insurance companies would be first in line. And I think they can act faster than I can.
Before you understand my solution, let me give you some context.
All newer cars have a standard jack that lets consumers add third-party devices that interact with the car’s electronics. The jack is usually under the dashboard and most people have never seen it. Devices already exist that plug into that jack and record data about the car’s operation.
The brute force method of preventing texting while driving involves, for example, having an app on your teen’s phone that interacts with the plug-in device and shuts off texting functions while the car detects movement. That device already exists. I think AT&T offers one.
The problem with that approach is that whenever the teen is moving as a passenger in a car, or on a bus, texting is disabled. All the app knows is that the teen is in motion.
The problem no one has yet cracked is how to identify the driver of the car and disable that one phone’s texting capability while allowing texting for passengers and public transit users.
That’s the problem I solved.
My insight is that the problem lies with psychology, not technology. Here’s my solution.
Like AT&T’s solution, a device is jacked into the car’s port below the dashboard. (You literally just plug it in.) The device works with an app that your teen has on his phone. That technology is all standard stuff.
All I am changing is the psychology, and to do that we require some tweaks in the software.
My solution requires one person to register as the non-texting driver for the specific vehicle or else a text alert will go to parents saying the car has no designated driver and is in motion.
That’s it. That’s the psychological fix. Think this through with me…
For starters, the passengers are all free to text, even if they have the app on their phones, because they have not registered as the driver of the moment. The speed of the vehicle is irrelevant to them.
If your teen is driving alone, he can still text and drive. The technology does not prevent it. But what does happen is that an immediate text is sent to a parent alerting of the behavior. And I can imagine also sending that data directly to the car insurance company as a way of knowing if the non-texting discount can apply.
I think it is important to allow texting and driving because sometimes the driver might hand his phone to a buddy and say, “Text my dad that we’re heading to Bob’s house.” Or maybe the teen is stuck in stop-and-go traffic and just needs to tell his Mom, “home in 10.” That’s reasonably safe, but the parent will get an alert text anyway, including the highway speed at the moment of the text. If the car is at rest, the parent doesn’t care. If the text says, “Eric says to tell you we are heading to Bob’s house,” it is obviously from a friend in the car, and again the parent isn’t concerned.
My idea assumes that teens are selfish. (Fair enough?) Imagine a car full of teens, each with a phone, each texting continuously during the ride as passengers. Would any of those teens volunteer to be the designated driver – just to fool the app – so the real driver can text and drive? I don’t think so, at least not often. Teens have lost the ability to be car passengers without texting. It isn’t even a thing anymore. They need texting like they need air.
A teen is dumb enough to ride in a car with a driver that is texting, but that teen is too selfish to give up his own right to text. A system that relies on honesty, good judgment, or dependability will always fail with teens. But a system that depends on teens being selfish has a good shot at working.
Best of all, this system gives the teen passengers an easy way to protest if the driver somehow tries to beat the system and text anyway. Teens aren’t good at saying, “Drive safely and don’t text.” But teens are great at saying, “Dude, I’m not going to be your designated non-texting bitch.”
Your brain is now busy thinking of ways your teen can thwart my clever system, and those ways surely exist. No system is hole-free. But I think this system takes a huge bite out of the problem.
This is a big deal. If you can’t think of a serious flaw in the system I described, we just fixed a big problem. And if there is a flaw I don’t see, perhaps this discussion will spark a better idea in one of you.
Let’s see if we can do something good today.