As telecom suppliers and insurance companies strive to leverage connected-car technology and increase revenues from autos, they’re also attempting to reduce the dangers of distracted driving. Sprint has focused on texting while driving, coming out with a tool that will block texting functions when the vehicle is in motion.
Sprint has unveiled a text disablement module that plugs into the vehicle’s on-board diagnostic (OBD II) port. It blocks the driver’s cell phone from sending and receiving text messages and surfing the Web when the vehicle is moving. Incoming messages are stored for later viewing, and users have the option of responding with a message that says they’re currently driving.
To underscore the benefits of text disablement, Sprint cited a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study that said drivers are 23 times more likely to crash if they’re texting while driving.
“Other studies show that it’s more dangerous to text while driving than driving drunk,” said Nathan George, Vice President of Technology at Modus, a service provider for telematics companies.
Modus is a Sprint partner that developed the text-disablement software. Some of Modus’ other work was in tools that let fleet managers monitor acceleration and speed. That system yielded a 20-60% decrease in rear-end collisions, George said.
George said the critical factor for the Sprint system is that it plugs into the OBD II port, which eliminates some concerns about cell-phone apps that prevent texting while driving. The Sprint system will always be active, unlike cell-phone apps that can be disabled by users. It also removes a key concern for cell-phone users—battery life.
“A half dozen or so companies have similar apps for smart phones, but they require turning on the GPS to block the screen above a certain speed,” George said. “The problem with that is that keeping the GPS on burns the battery quickly.”
Sprint hopes to expand its role in the usage-based insurance market, which is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 81% from 5.5 million at the end of 2013 to 107 million in 2018, according to ABI Research. One facet of Sprint’s strategy is to make it easy for insurance companies to roll out new features.
“Text disablement enables auto insurance carriers and self-insured organizations to improve driver risk assessment and encourage good driving behavior,” said Ben Vos, Vice President of Emerging Solutions Group at Sprint.
George noted that the system creates a limited zone so passengers' phones won’t be blocked. Though Sprint and Modus have been working with a number of cell-phone providers for a while, George noted that not all of them let users easily access the Modus app that links phones to the module.
“Apple refuses to let us block texting while driving. They won’t let us in their app store,” George said.