August 19. 2013 12:36AM

Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Combating texting while driving



TERRI GOLTER, an emergency medical technician from the New Castle Fire Department, tells me that "accidents caused by driving and texting far outnumber those caused by DWI these days." This was her response after I told her that a driver who was texting had hit my car.

The other day I joined a line of cars waiting for the green light. I looked up, and through my rearview mirror I saw a car approaching. Strangely the driver was not looking forward. She was looking down. I sensed a hopeless urge to honk. In a fraction of a second, her car hit mine, and the rest is history. Nobody was hurt. Her car was damaged badly, while my car just lost its rear bumper. All together the cost must have been in excess of $5,000.

Suddenly I became aware of this modern phenomenon called driving and texting (texting while driving — TWD or dexting, etc). I have been aware of many people on the phone on the highways in the morning and evening commutes. I also notice that some drivers on the phone are not as agile as those not on the phone. However, the serious risk from texting while driving didn't seem to me as worse than being on the phone.

So this week's column will be dedicated to the potential solutions for the problem of texting while driving, a complex social, psychological and technological phenomenon sweeping the world.

First of all, if you haven't been aware of the serious tragedy brought about by an accident from TWD, please look for various videos available in the Internet. The most intense and effective is the one produced by Werner Herzog (click here for link), a famed German film director.

Now let's think why texting has become so popular among drivers, especially teenagers.

• Texting is much more reliable than a cell phone conversation. It is short, crisp and has no failures despite varying service strength.

• Texting is far more direct than phone conversations. No "Can you hear me now?"

• One can text things he or she normally hesitates to say over the phone.

• It's 24/7, and the user has option of responding or not responding immediately.

• For professional people who rely on fast communication connection, texting is a perfect medium. The attraction and urgency it offers often can far outweigh the potential danger.

• Additionally, texting has become in vogue with young people. It is a strong subculture all by itself.

• Also, small screen displays besides cellphones are on the rise again, and drivers can use them to download music, video, games and other apps, thus distracting them from driving safely.

Now let's discuss the damage TWD causes to this country.

• About 5,000 deaths a year are directly attributable to TWD and this is rising, while the total deaths in traffic accidents in 2011 was 32,367. (AAA Foundation)

• Of the 5.3 million crashes in 2011, 1.3 million involved distraction caused by a cell phone.

Now let's discuss potential remedies:

-- Legal: Enact strict laws to ban texting while driving. This is easy to say and hard to implement. Some sort of monitoring system has to be developed in cooperation with service providers. They know who is texting, and GPS data locate texters.

-- Motion detection: Using the built-in GPS in the cell phone, it will disable the texting feature when the car is in motion. It's available already but the app can be disabled easily. Also, people who use public transportation would be inconvenienced.

-- Self-discipline: Put the cell phone out of your reach in the car when you are driving. Again, it's easy to say but very hard to enforce even by yourself.

-- Develop an audio interface so that both the call out and call in will be in the form of speech. Text would be read by the computer-voice (not via audio channel) — thus retaining the text's reliability. Thus texting becomes no more distracting than the voice call.

-- Develop a head-up display so that text will appear on the windshield. This would reduce the degree of distraction.

I am awaiting all readers' suggestions. NO TEXTING while DRIVING!

Shintaro (Sam) Asano of New Castle, who speaks and writes English as a second language, was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century who improved our life. He is a businessman and an inventor in the field of electronics and mechanical systems, who is credited as the original inventor of today's portable fax machine. He also developed a data tablet used in the retail point of sale to capture customer signatures when credit cards are used. Write to him at