The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 3,000 fatal traffic accidents nationwide last year were the result of distracted driving.
With the threats of fines or jail time failing to cut down on distracted driving, researchers at Rutgers University have designed and tested a smartphone application that pinpoints where a cellphone user is sitting: on the driver's side or the passenger's side.
While the app allows the passenger to use the phone with no restrictions, it can take several actions if it determines the driver is using the phone, a Rutgers release said.
For example, it can silently forward incoming calls and texts to message boxes for later retrieval, and can also respond automatically to a caller or someone sending a text message, saying that the phone owner is currently driving and will reply later.
For outgoing communication, the app could disable texting and make placing certain calls less difficult, perhaps by offering a short list of frequent contacts shown as large on-screen buttons, the researchers said.
They devised a way for a cellphone to work with a car's sound system to distinguish between the driver and passenger. In their demonstration, a cellphone generates high-pitched beeps and transmits them to the car stereo over a Bluetooth connection.
By measuring the amount of time that sound takes to travel from each speaker, the cellphone app can determine whether the phone is on the driver's side or the passenger's side of the car.
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