Darien resident creates device to prevent distracted driving
Darcy Ahl, was driving with her son, who had just received his driving permit, on Interstate 95 in June of 2006 when his cell phone rang in his pocket. As her son struggled to pull the phone from his pocket, he began weaving across the lines that separated the lanes.
"It was luck that nothing terrible happened, but it was very clear that something could have happened," said Ahl, a Darien resident.
"I started to look into the numbers around distracted driving and it seemed to me that wherever I looked, people were talking on their cell phones when they were driving," she said.
Ahl is not alone in that observation. A recent study conducted by Nationwide Insurance Company found that 77 percent of drivers in the Northeast reported always or often seeing drivers in other cars talking on cell phones or texting.
It's a teen issue as well. A 2007 National Highway Traffic Safety Authority survey found that drivers between the ages of 16 and 24 were more likely than any other age group to be seen using an electronic device while driving.
"My maternal instincts made me want to take action," Ahl said.
She spent the next three years working toward forming Illume Software, a new company that aims to use technology to help address social issues. The company's first product, iZUP, is launching this fall.
"iZUP is an algorithm software program that works on a GPS-enabled smart phone," Ahl said. "The GPS detects the speed of the phone in a moving vehicle. When the phone hits 5 miles per hour, the application initiates and it shuts the handset down, forwarding all text and voice messages for later retrieval."
All missed calls and messages show up when the car has come to a full stop.
"It has to be stopped for more than 60 seconds -- enough time to come to a full stop and safely to the side of the road, or a parking lot or the side of a house," Ahl said. "The reason we picked 60 seconds is because most traffic lights are 30 to 60 seconds long."
The program is ideal for parents of young drivers, she said.
"We have the ability for an account administrator to set up three white-listed exception numbers so that a parent could be certain to be able to reach their child and their child reach them at all times," she said. "Those three numbers would work on an incoming and outgoing basis at all times, as would 911, very importantly."
If a phone running iZUP initiates a call to 911, a text message and e-mail are automatically sent to a parent notifying them of the call and the exact location of the handset.
"We believe we can help parents in Darien feel safer," Ahl said.
Technology is just one step toward curbing cell phone use while driving. Education and legislation are also important factors, she said. Working with all three factors is the best way to see results, she said.
"It's well known that Connecticut is a hands-free state, but it doesn't seem to make a difference. People are still on their phones," she said. "It's like seat-belt use to a degree. The law alone isn't going to do it, education will help and the technology is there to help stop this epidemic."
The NHTSA estimates that distracted driving is involved in 25 percent of all police-reported motor-vehicle accidents.
Ahl and her company are hoping to host an event at Darien High School to educate students and parents about driving while distracted, and offer test drives with the iZUP.
"We're trying to educate at a grass-roots level and hit the target audience, right where it matters and get a dialogue going between parents and teens about the issue," she said.
The iZUP will be available online at getiZUP.com next month. A single device will cost $4.95 a month or $49.95 year or a family plan with three or more devices will cost $5.95 a month or $59.95 a year.