U.S. Government Looking Into Cell Phone Blocking Tech in Cars to Save Lives

[Updated] In response to the ever growing number of deaths and injuries attributable to distracted driving, the U.S. Department of Transportation is investigating technology that would effectively disable driver’s cell phones in their cars.

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe breakfast show, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stated: "There's a lot of technology out there now that can disable phones and we're looking at that. That's one way. But you have to have good laws, you have to have good enforcement, and you have to have people take personal responsibility. That's the bottom line."

The semi-official announcement comes as the DoT launches a new online video campaign called, “Faces of Distracted Driving”, where victims speak about how it has changed their lives. Mr. LaHood went on to state that the deadly phenomenon has claimed 5,500 lives in the last year, with 500,000 more injured.

Paul Atchley, a scientist as the University of Kansas, thinks the true numbers could be much higher, and that things will only get worse:

"When we ask young drivers about drunk driving, they say that judges should throw the book at drunk drivers, but not the person texting while driving. The bottom line is that people want to use these devices. And things are going to get worse before they get better."

There are no federal laws in the U.S. that limit the use of a cell phone while driving, though many states do prohibit texting. Others have made it illegal to use a cell phone without a headset / voice dialing.

It is unlikely that cell phone jammers will be built into cars, as the Federal Communications Commission has made these illegal (for obvious reasons). The DoT is therefore seeking a software solution that could use cell phone towers to estimate a car’s speed.

Mr. Atchley, however, is convinced this won’t work, as these methods are voluntary and the software is not difficult for tech savvy users to work around. Instead, Atchley believes we must change people’s attitudes.

Though given the failings of similar campaigns against speeding and drunk driving, this may not be as easy as it first seems.

*Update: The U.S. Department of Transport is not considering mandating cell phone blocking technology in cars. The U.S. DoT is simply evaluating these technologies so that individuals and companies may voluntarily use them in the near future. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has clarified this in a blog post.

By Tristan Hankins