Physicist finds way to track texting behind the wheel

Posted on in Car Accidents

One of the main criticisms of the texting and driving laws being passed nationwide is that they can be hard to enforce. Not only is it difficult for law enforcement officers to detect and prove a driver's texting, but GPS methods of tracking cellphone use can't discern whether the phone user is a driver or passenger.

But a West Coast physicist may have found a solution. If proven effective, it could allow police and prosecutors to enforce texting bans and prove a driver was distracted in the event of a car accident caused by texting.

While thinking about ways to address the risk of his own daughters texting behind the wheel, the physicist wondered if the pattern of the texting would appear distracted if done by a driver. Tests showed he was right: The pattern of pushing buttons on a phone by someone who's driving is distinctly more chaotic than someone who's not distracted.

The physicist and a team of scientists came up with a mathematical equation to track the pattern that's more than 99 percent accurate. This equation could be used to develop a phone app that would stop a person from texting behind the wheel, or at least alert them.

Some law enforcement officers are excited about the prospect of a better way to tell if a driver is texting. "If we ask about it after an accident, nobody's required to tell us if they were texting while driving," said a state police trooper.

The technology could be useful for parents, police and prosecutors. "Eventually you might see something like this required on the phones of distracted drivers who've been in accidents," said the physicist.

The initial research took about two years and was done through a $50,000 Department of Energy grant. Considering the number of distracted-driving accidents that cause injury or death every year, it seems a small price to pay for a way to keep everyone safer on the road.

Source: The Columbian, "Physicist finds way to detect texting behind the wheel," Sue Vorenberg, March 21, 2012

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