Last year, more than 5,000 people in the United States were killed in distracted driving-related crashes. Few are as outspoken as U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “So when you get in your car, buckle up and put your cell phone in the glove compartment,” LaHood says in a PSA as part of a campaign he launched bringing awareness to the problem.
It includes stories from people who have lost loved ones because of drivers texting or talking. The Transportation Secretary says he’s on a personal crusade that could include a radical approach—a cell phone kill switch for vehicles. In a recent national tv interview, LaHood said “I think it will be done.” Controversial, no doubt about it.
For this to work, the government would have to require that all vehicles be equipped with cell phone jammers. A cell phone jammer is a device that emits signals, the same frequency range that cell phones use, blocking the transmission.
A cell phone jammer wouldn’t just keep the driver from talking and texting, it would shut down every phone in the car. Potentially even blocking emergency calls. Another way to force people to hang up and drive, software in the phones that de-activates them when they reach a certain speed.
“The technology is new to endorse it or say it makes sense,” says John Donahue, CEO of Quincy-based Arbella Insurance. He runs the company’s ‘Distractology 101’ program, where new drivers learn the dangers of distracted driving on a simulator, instead of out on the road.
“I always hesitate about mandates. I think it just creates all these enforcement issues. It gets you away from the real topic,” Donahue says. And if the technology were to be mandated, noted Boston attorney Howard Friedman says it would violate basic civil rights. “Some people use their cell phones for navigation,” Friedman says, “now they couldn’t do that so what would people have to do? Pull out a map and read a paper map while they drive, which is actually harder to do.”
LaHood has since pulled back from his original comments, saying the Department of Transportation is looking at all ways to curb distracted driving. It appears though, the option is still on the table. The government turning your car, into a cell phone dead zone.