“From the minute we’re young kids we’re conditioned to answer that phone. It’s kind of Pavlovian in a sense,” said Jesse Hoggard, Cellcontrol’s marketing director. “Now that stimuli just follows us around in the back pocket all the time.”
This year motor vehicle deaths are expected to pass 40,000 for the first time since 2007, and some car insurers are raising their premiums. How much blame distracted driving deserves is unclear. Falling gas prices have led to drivers spending more time on the road.
Cellcontrol sells a black box that is attached to the middle of a car’s windshield. It uses Bluetooth to split the car into separate areas, preventing smartphone usage in the driver’s seat while allowing it in the passenger seat and backseat. A driver will have to install the Cellcontrol app for the system to work, but once it is up and running, the program automatically turns on when a user climbs into in the driver’s seat.
If someone calls while a driver is on the road, the call will go automatically to voicemail. Alerts and text messages appear on the phone screen for slightly less than a second, and then the screen fades to black. If a driver tries to activate their phone, an alert will pop up reminding them not to use their phone while driving.
Select apps or phone numbers can be put on a safe list to be accessed when a person is driving. Exemptions might include a navigation app or a parent’s phone number.
The Texas energy company CDM first installed Cellcontrol on its fleet of more than 500 trucks three years ago and saw an immediate, 33 percent reduction in crashes. Travis Duhon, who manages health and safety at CDM, said that driving at the company had gotten progressively worse, and it knew its culture had to change. He has since installed Cellcontrol on the cars his two children drive, too.
Cellcontrol includes features that a parent wanting to keep a close eye on child would likely enjoy. It can send an alert to the parent when a trip starts after a certain time, or if a speed on a road is exceeded.
I spent part of a morning in a car with Cellcontrol installed, and came away convinced it could impact how drivers behave. The system is targeting parents who worry about their teenage drivers. As often happens with technology, the younger generations master it and find loopholes to exploit it to their advantage. But Cellcontrol is prepared to prevent that. The Baton Rouge start-up’s roots were as an information security company, so gaming systems comes naturally to them.
“We have a room full of engineers whose job it is to think like 17-year-olds. So they sit around and try to game and break our system as much as possible,” Hoggard said.
If a driver tries to disable Cellcontrol, an alert will be sent to their parent. A teenager could try driving with their phone off, so that their speed or trip wouldn’t be recorded, but the windshield device collects data even when a phone isn’t present.
Cellcontrol costs $129 for consumers. Commercial fleets pay a monthly fee to use it. The system works both on iPhones and Android phones.
It seems like a promising way to make teenagers drive better. But can anyone convince the average adult to install such a system on their own car?