Distracted drivers turn to phone-blocking devices to stay safe

Virginians on the road this holiday week have a new tool in the war against distracted driving: devices that disable cell phones when the car is in motion.

The gadgets use a variety of technologies to keep drivers from using cell phones, The New York Times reported. Some work using the phone’s onboard GPS signal. Others operate with data supplied by the car, while yet others use data from cell phone towers.

One businessman told The Times that he bought the devices for the 400 trucks in his company’s fleet – and accidents went down 30 percent.

“We realized we had to go beyond education and policy,” Jamey LeBlanc, the risk manager for Community Coffee, a coffee roaster in Baton Rogue, La., told The Times. “You’re going against human nature here, so you need something that works independently of that.”

The phone-disabling systems intercept incoming calls and redirect them to voice mail. Users can program exceptions, and they can also override the system and take a call. However, an answered call can be reported to the system owner – a parent or a business owner.

At the same time, carmakers are working to make hands-free systems more user-friendly and more ubiquitous. There were just 918,000 hands-free systems installed in cars in 2008, the Consumer Electronics Association told The Times. By the end of this year, the newspaper said, there should be 1.6 million installed systems. Some of them use voice commands to call numbers and to even read text messages aloud.