Aegis Mobility wants to eliminate texting and driving

Earlier this month, the State of Utah released a 15-minute video highlighting the risks of texting while driving and new stiffer penalties: Texting and emailing while driving in Utah is now punishable by up to a $750 fine and up to 90 days in jail.

As regulators in both Canada and the United States step up scrutiny of the dangers of texting while driving, software makers are scrambling to develop mobile applications that block texts or minimize the distraction of texting. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Lavallee covered the story and singled out a Canadian solution that might be able to make a difference.

Texting is wildly popular: the number of monthly text messages has increased more than tenfold in the past three years to 110.4 billion in December 2008, up from 9.8 billion in December 2005, according to the wireless industry trade organization CTIA.

But texting while driving is unsafe: Not only are a driver’s eyes off the road, one or both hands are off the wheel. Texting has been implicated in the crash of a Los Angeles train in September, as well as a trolley collision in Boston in May. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving, with 10 passing laws this year, the Governors Highway Safety Association said.

Vancouver-based Aegis Mobility is developing DriveAssist (video demo), a software program that uses a phone’s GPS to detect when it is moving at driving speed and intercept incoming calls and texts. It also blocks outgoing messages, though the owner can override it to make emergency calls. Timothy Smith, chairman of Aegis, said he expects DriveAssist to be available next year for $6 to $12 a month. Aegis has signed a deal with Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. in which policyholders will get a discount if they subscribe.

Everyone should watch the State of Utah’s video.