ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Yesterday, we heard about Utah's tough law prohibiting texting while driving. Other states have similar laws. And federal legislation is pending to cover all states. But just like driving drunk, people still text behind the wheel.
So, high-tech companies are racing to develop devices to make it harder to do. One company in Utah has a new device aimed specifically at teen drivers. From member station KUER in Salt Lake City, Jenny Brundin has this story.
JENNY BRUNDIN: Brandi Terry was a 17 years old in her junior year of high school. She was driving one day on her way to visit her grandpa in Northern Utah.
Ms. BRANDI TERRY: I woke up to a bright light - it was like, I could barely open my eyes and paramedics - this man was just saying Brandi, Brandi, you know. I just started crying. I didn't know what had happened.
BRUNDIN: She had run through a red light. Police checked her phone and discovered she'd sent a text within seconds of the accident. Terry shattered her right ankle and broke her upper right arm in half. She couldn't walk for six months and had an agonizing recovery. She got better, got another car and tried to stop texting.
Ms. TERRY: I tried really, really hard not to. And then it got to the point where I would do it only, you know, once every five minutes. You know, I would rarely do it and then it got to the point when I was alone in the car, I would do it. I don't know - it's just so addicting. I just can't put it down.
BRUNDIN: A nationwide survey this year showed an estimated 45 percent of drivers, 30 or younger are sending or receiving texts behind the wheel. Teens call it driving while intexticated. Within a year of her first accident, Brandi Terry did it again. She slammed into the back of semi while she was texting. This time, she escaped injury.
Mr. MIKE FAHNERT (President, Safe Driving Systems): We all wish it was as simple as, you know, just don't do it.
BRUNDIN: Mike Fahnert is president of Safe Driving Systems in South Jordan, Utah. Because it's not that simple, his company has come up with a device to disable the phones of texting drivers.
Mr. FAHNERT: This technology just helps keep you from doing it.
(Soundbite of car)
BRUNDIN: The company's Eric Boon(ph) demonstrates how it works. He stumps off with something called it K2SD or Key to Safe Driving device.
Mr. ERIC BOON (Safe Driving Systems): Well, in my car and we'll plug the key into the port on the car.
BRUNDIN: The key is actually a small rectangular plug that's inserted into the onboard diagnostic port - that's underneath the dashboard of most cars.
Mr. BOON: We start the car, takes 30 seconds to pull, and determine if, you know, if there's a signal out there.
BRUNDIN: Once the car is on, a wireless signal is sent to the driver's cell phone.
(Soundbite of beeping)
Mr. BOON: That beep is just audio indicator that it's entered safe driving mode.
BRUNDIN: The words, safe driving mode, pop up on his cell phone screen. The phone is now disabled for all incoming and outgoing calls and texts, except for emergency calls. This product is all part of an emerging industry that's creating technology to minimize or eliminate driving distraction.
There's San Diego-based DriveCam that equips cars with video cameras to capture risky driving. Still, other products on the market rely on GPS technology that detect when a car is moving and turns off the cell phone. But because these products are motion-based, they can end up blocking cell use even when the caller is sitting in the back of a cab or on a bus. But the bottom line is -are Americans, especially teens, ready to give up driving distractions? Not these teens.
Ms. BRITTANY LUI: Heck, no.
Ms. PREE TAUTELLI: I would break here right then, heck no. I mean, we would not even go near that. We don't need that.
BRUNDIN: It's two o'clock, school's out and Pree Tautelli and Brittany Lui and friends are piling into a Mini Cooper in Salt Lake City. They didn't like the thought that their parents would have a device in their car to block calls and texts.
Ms. TAUTELLI: I love texting and driving. It's the in thing.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. LUI: It's fun.
Ms. TAUTELLI: I mean, everyone does it. Who doesn't, you know?
BRUNDIN: Teens, frankly, can sometimes be devious. So the Safe Driving System's device allows parents to set up a password-protected profile. If the key is unplugged from the car, a tattle-tale function sends off a text message alerting the parent. Teens in this high school parking lot may not be rushing to sign up. But remember Brandi Terry, now 19, the teen who's had two major accidents because she can't stop texting, says she'll be the first in line when the product goes to market later this fall.
For NPR News, I'm Jenny Brundin in Salt Lake City.
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