Cooper, who is 83 years old, thinks texting while driving is a serious and overlooked problem. Recent stats, while still murky, seem to back him up. Last year, more than 3,000 people died in accidents caused by drivers who were distracted by talking or texting, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In the time that it takes to read a text – about five seconds – a car traveling 55 miles per hour would travel 100 yards.
Still, those findings are contested. Just today, the Swedish National Road and Transport Institute released a study that says it’s not worth banning the practice, because there is no data to suggest it increases the risk of crashing, and people would do it anyway.
But Cooper says the solution is obvious: Just prevent the driver from being able to dial or text while the vehicle is moving. Here, as he described to me in an email, is how his solution works:
Embedded in the dash[board] of every vehicle are three tiny antennae, merely strips of metal. They are attached to a semiconductor chip senses the presence of a cell phone and locates it within inches. The chip emits a weak signal that is received by the driver’s cell phone. This signal causes the keypad in the driver’s phone to be disabled except for emergency calls (911).
The cost of the antennae and chip in the car would be about $3.00. The addition to the cell phone would be some software (all cell phones have enough processing capability to perform simple functions like this) and a chip that would cost less than a dollar.
Cooper, who has decided against patenting the technology in favor of putting it in the public domain, understands the challenges in implementing his solution. It would take more than 10 years before most vehicles on the planet could be equipped with the technology, but he points out that it was the same deal for airbags, which address a safety need of comparable importance.
“The real challenge is getting the various parties, car manufacturers, cell phone makers, and carriers to admit the danger and cooperate to solve it,” Cooper says.
It sounds like a pretty decent plan to me – I’m always freaked out when someone who’s driving me around starts texting while blasting down the highway. And with voice-activated texting technology like Siri, hands-free options are getting better.
“People thought I was insane 40 years ago, when I suggested that handheld cell phones would be pervasive in our lifetime,” says Cooper. “I’m certain that many will state that now. They would be wrong now, as they were then.”
Google, of course, has its own solution to texting while driving, and it’s somewhat more radical than a $3 antenna. But in lieu of removing the driving part of operating a motor vehicle, Cooper’s idea might serve for now. Even in Sweden.