More than 3,000 people die annually in crashes caused by distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

(Photo: courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In 2008, Boulder entrepreneur Scott Tibbitts drove to Denver for a business meeting. When he arrived, he learned that the person he was scheduled to meet had died in a car accident that morning, hit by a teenager who was texting. At the time, Tibbitts had been trying to figure out his next business venture. Now he knew. He decided to focus on inventing a technological solution to the problem of texting while driving.
 
Tibbitts and his company, Katasi, have created what they say is the first cloud-based system to disable a cell phone’s texting function. It’s called, Groove, and it’s designed to appeal to teens and young adults. The technology has caught the attention of cell-phone carriers, insurance companies, and The New York Times, which recently profiled Tibbitts and his invention.
 
Most current tech solutions are apps that use GPS to determine whether a phone is moving and then block the phone’s ability to text. But they can be easily overridden, and they use up batteries quickly. Groove is a small module device that plugs into a car’s on-board diagnostics port under the steering wheel. The port allows information about the car to be sent through the cloud to Katasi’s servers. Combined with information from the cell phone, Groove can determine which family member is driving a car and then block texts while still allowing navigation functions.
 
To motivate teens to actually embrace the device, Groove employs a game that allows drivers to accumulate points for every 10 miles of “focused” driving, that is, no jamming on the brakes, no swerving, and no override of the Groove device. Accumulated points can be used immediately for discounts at participating restaurants or gas stations.
 
Tibbitts initially partnered with American Family Insurance and Sprint, and Groove was set to launch over the summer as a subscription service costing $8 a month. But Sprint backed out due to liability concerns, and Groove is now on hold.
 
Tibbitts says he’s now talking to other carriers, and he’s confident Groove will hit the market. “It’s inevitable,” he says. “It’s just a matter of how quickly it happens.”