Readers of this blog know that I’ve posted many times on the subject of Massachusetts texting and driving accidents – pleading with drivers to put down that smart phone when behind the wheel. Despite the numerous deaths and injuries that have resulted, human behavior just doesn’t seem to change: People think they can do this, without causing any problems. Thinking that is like thinking you can walk across the Massachusetts Turnpike, blindfolded, and not get killed. Yet, this behavior goes on.
Well, if human behavior can’t seem to change on its own, perhaps science and technology can help it change. The impetus for this technological change was caused by a tragedy: On May 8, 2008, a man Dave Sueper, a husband and father of two, was driving in his car, on his way to a business meeting with a colleague. Driving through an intersection, Mr. Sueper was “T-boned” when by a distracted teenage driver who was texting as he ran a red light. The person Mr. Sueper was on his way to meet was a man by the name of Scott Tibbitts, a chemical and space engineer who previously designed motors and technology for NASA. Mr. Tibbitts was deeply affected by the tragedy. As Dave Sueper was, Tibbitts was the father of two children at the time. As an electronics engineer, he obsessed with finding a way to prevent more motor accidents and deaths due to texting while driving (distracted driving.)
Tibbitts had recently sold his space engineering company, Starsys Research Corp., and the time was right for a new challenge, professionally. He devoted himself to finding a way to stop the growing scourge of texting while driving. Just how serious is this epidemic? The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that cellphones (smartphones) are implicated in 1.6 million car crashes each year; these motor vehicle crashes cause over half a million injuries and claim 6,000 lives each year. Think drunk driving is the worst or only insane thing you can do while behind the wheel? Texting while driving has replaced drinking while driving as the leading cause of teenage vehicular deaths; Teen distracted driving is the cause of 20 percent of all teen highway deaths in the U.S. I’ve been a Brookline, Massachusetts car accident lawyer for 20 years, and I can assure you: The emergence of cell phones, smart phones and texting has caused and explosion of these injuries and deaths. It is quite horrific.
Tibbitts knew drivers were obviously not changing their habits, and he became consumed with finding a technological answer to how this behavior could be prevented. In an interview with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric, he commented, “There has got to be something that will fix this technically. (BTW: Watch that video link with Katie Couric to see a fascinating social experiment with Japanese movie goers, about texting while driving. I think you’ll find it very interesting.) Tibbitts continued, “This feeling – it just wouldn’t let [me] go.” The technological challenge wasn’t going to be easy: Several previous attempts to stop this behavior had been tried, typically using apps on smart phones that would tap into GPS signals to pick up on when a phone is traveling more than 10 MPH, and then disable distracting phone features such as texting. But the problem was that those apps can easily be overridden by the driver. Further, those apps don’t make any distinction between whether the phone’s user was traveling in his own car, someone else’s car in which he is merely a passenger, or even a public bus that’s traveling faster than 10 MPH. This was the challenge that Tibbitts and his team at his new company, Katasi, had to solve. Click on that link to learn more about this fascinating company, and what it’s doing to create a safer world.
I’ll talk about just how Tibbitts and his company, Katasi, went about tackling those problems.