BOULDER, Colo. — A tech startup has spent years perfecting technology to help prevent distracted driving deaths, and it could soon be available to all.
Scott Tibbitts became fixated with preventing distracted driving in 2009, after a tragic day that came at a crucial time.
“I went to visit this guy to talk about what was next after I sold my first company,” Tibbits said. “He’d been killed two hours before by a texting teen right outside the parking lot in the intersection I had just driven through.”
Tibbitts started Katasi a short time later and began working on the Groove, a small device that plugs into the OBD 2 port beneath the steering wheel. It’s the same port that mechanics use to read a car’s diagnostics, but the Groove does much more.
“Basically, this makes a car-to-internet connection, and as soon as your car starts moving, our software in the cloud says, ‘Ah, Scott’s car is moving,’” Tibbitts said.
Once the car reaches 5 mph, the device works with a cellphone carrier to restrict most kinds of distracting data from reaching the phone.
“So if someone tries to send me a text message now, they get a message that says, ‘Scott’s driving, being protected by Groove, he’ll get his message when he arrives at his destination,’” Tibbitts said.
Drive Mode also cuts access to most social networking apps, but it doesn’t stop people from making voice calls, using navigation or streaming music.
The Groove functions can be overridden with a push of a button, but parents have some safeguards if they are worried about their children disabling the device.
“It tracks that and it provides alerts,” Tibbitts said. “We can say something like, ‘Did you know your teen overrides on 37 percent of his drives?’”
Once the Drive Mode is active, it stays that way until the the car is turned off.
Tibbitts said he has had the technology to launch Groove for years, but the company often hit roadblocks from major cellular carriers because of liability concerns.
“That conversation we thought would take three months, but that conversation has taken maybe three years,” Tibbitts said.
He said they are close to finalizing a deal with Sprint and another cellular carrier in the U.S., and he is confident Groove will be available some time this year. It’s even closer to launching the service in Australia.
Last year, 69 people died on Colorado roads because of distracted driving crashes, which is why Tibbitts hopes Groove doesn’t have to wait much longer.
“I can’t read the stories,” Tibbitts said. “I’m too close to it. It is extraordinarily difficult to have a solution to a problem like this and read another story.”