Getting people to stop endangering themselves and others because they are texting while driving may not be possible; so stakeholders are looking at technology that blocks cell phones from displaying text messages in the first place.

The technology developers face an uphill battle, however, as texting has grown in popularity at blinding rates.

In 2005, research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Arlington, Va., found that drivers using cell phones were four times more likely to get in a crash serious enough to injure themselves. Since then, that number has seen explosive growth, as drivers use Bluetooth and other technologies to hold cell phone conversations while driving. But talking is just part of the distraction, say experts.

Drivers who use cell phones to send and read text messages, face even greater danger.

According to CTIA, an industry trade organization that tracks wireless technology, the number of monthly text messages grew to 110.4 billion in December 2008, up from 9.8 billion in 2005. Because “texting” is especially popular among teens, they represent the highest risk behind the wheel. This distraction, say experts, represents the perfect storm for personal lines property/casualty insurers.

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.’s second annual Driving While Distracted (DWD) study, released in October 2008, shows nearly half of Americans (48%) considered cell phones to be the most dangerous distraction while driving. More than 40% say they have been hit, or almost hit, by another driver who was talking on a cell phone.

Some states recognize this. In fact, 17 states and the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving, while 10 other states plan to pass laws this year, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Fines and penalties vary from state to state.
And although federal laws may be ideal, regulators say this would be difficult to enforce.

The answer may be an “if you can’t beat ‘em, stop ‘em temporarily” approach, as technology solution providers gear up to produce technologies that would make safety the priority.

Much of this technology uses global position system (GPS) technology to block texts from being sent or received while the owner is driving.

In particular, Aegis Mobility Inc., Vancouver, is developing an application that uses a phone's GPS to detect when it is moving at driving speed to intercept incoming calls and texts. Called DriveAssist, the software also blocks outgoing messages, though the owner can override it to make emergency calls. The vendor says the software should be available next year, and Nationwide will be one of the first to offer a premium discount to policyholders to employ it.

Other technologies in development include voice messaging, which creates an audio message from a text message that can be played with the touch of a key. Analysts say insurers are looking at these technologies as a viable way to improve safety and reduce claims.

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