Fisker Automotive names Tony Posawatz, former head of Volt program, as new CEO
Chevrolet Trax small SUV to make world premiere in Paris with gasoline and diesel options

New mobile phone app identifies driver phone use, enabling action to reduce distracted driving

Illustration of the logical flow in the system. By measuring the amount of time that sound takes to travel from each speaker, the cell phone app can determine whether the phone is on the driver’s side or the passenger’s side of the car. Source: Yang et al. Click to enlarge.

A team from Rutgers University and Stevens Institute of Technology have designed and tested a smart phone application that can pinpoint where in the car a cell phone user is sitting—i.e., on the driver’s side or the passenger’s side—and then take steps to reduce distractions if its user is a driver.

For example, it can silently forward incoming calls and texts to message boxes for later retrieval. It could also respond automatically to a caller or texter, saying that the owner is currently driving and will reply later. Or it could offer to put a voice call through if a caller or texter indicates the matter is urgent.

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 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 3,000 fatal traffic accidents nationwide last year were the result of distracted driving. Studies have found that one in 20 traffic accidents involve a driver talking on a cell phone and that talking even while using a hands-free device carries as great a delay in reaction time as having a blood alcohol concentration of .08, the legal limit.

Earlier suggestions on how technology could fight the problem, such as measuring how fast a cell phone is moving and cutting off conversations above a certain speed, were dismissed as overreaching.

The trouble was, that would cut you off if you were a passenger in a car or if you were riding on a train.

—Marco Gruteser, Rutgers associate professor of electrical and computer engineering

Gruteser and his colleagues devised a way for a cell phone to work with a car’s sound system to distinguish between the driver and passenger. It requires a stereo sound system with Bluetooth connectivity—a capability working its way into the mid-priced car market.

Flow of the detection algorithm. Source: Yang et al. Click to enlarge.

The phone generates high-pitched beeps and transmits them to the car stereo over the Bluetooth connection. The beeps are spaced in time across the left, right, and if available, front and rear speakers. After sampling the beeps, the app uses a sequential change-point detection scheme to time their arrival, and then uses a differential approach to estimate the phone’s distance from the car’s center. From these differences, the app makes a “passenger” or “driver” classification.

A car with four-channel audio can perform the check more accurately, and may one day even be able to distinguish between front- and back-seat phone users.

The concept, while simple, had to prove itself in the cabin of a moving car, where acoustics are far from perfect; the app achieved a 90% success rate, said Rich Martin, associate professor of computer science in the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences, who is also, like Gruteser, a member of the university’s Wireless Information Network Laboratory (WINLAB). Classification accuracy rose to 95% with some calibrations. They also found a low false positive rate, on the order of a few percent.

The team wrote its initial app to run on an Android device and plans to develop one for the iPhone. The concept merited a best paper award at last year’s MobiCom, a leading academic and professional conference for mobile computing and wireless networking technology.

The engineers hope their demonstration spurs cell phone makers to pursue commercial development of the concept.

Contributing to the research from Rutgers were Gayathri Chandrasekaran, Tam Vu and Nicolae Cecan; and from Stevens Institute of Technology, Jie Yang, Simon Sidhom, Hongbo Liu and Yingying Chen. The work was funded by the National Science Foundation.




Yeah, Big Brother! That'll go over great here in the land of the free and the home of the brave!

These are the same people who think it's more important to protect their "God given right to carry a 100 round magazine for their semi-automatic assault rifle" than it is to stop mass murderers. No, seriously, it's quasi-religious to these people.

Good luck with this one.


Perhaps you aren't old enough to remember the widespread complaints of big-brotherism when mandatory seat belt laws were introduced in the 80s. People testified that they will wrinkle their clothes, irritate their neck, and all sorts of complaints. It was very difficult to get those laws passed, even though everyone knew they were needed to save lives. Now few people complain about seat belt laws now.

What's rediculous is state legislatures passing laws that actually make distracted driving legal. Jerry Brown recently signed a law allowing hands-free phone use while driving even though "hands-free device carries as great a delay in reaction time as having a blood alcohol concentration of .08", same as hand-held phone use.

Holding something in one hand while driving with the other isn't dangerous. If it was, people driving manual transmission cars would be a risk. Nobody complains about them. The risk of hands-free phones is caused by concentrating on the conversation, not holding something.



An obvious consideration is requiring cars and/or cell phones to employ this, like the GPS location when you call 911.

They carefully avoid implying it should be mandatory; probably because, unlike the many wanabe despots posting on GCC, they realize this will sell itself.

Even if use is optional (but mandated to be built-in) it would be a godsend.

NO, it does not need to allow any calls by the driver – ever.

It could ring and allow you to stop as soon as you are able if you simply CANNOT wait.

Who would NOT want this?

I often get calls or text msgs while driving, the caller assumes (well, they should) I will not answer if I am driving.

As for reducing fatalities, I am not so sure - when I am avoiding some wandering driver on a cell phone I frequently wish death and dismemberment on them (not necessarily in that order).


The ¢ost will be pennies.

I assume Dave and Zhukova will be disappointed if people are allowed to adopt this voluntarily.



Why would you assume that we would be disappointed if something good happened? Pointing out that people react irrationally to something that could help them, like seat belts, would not in any way mean that Zhokova was gleefully wishing pain on others. That is strange way to interpret his statement frankly.

Are you so bitter that you think that of everyone else or did you really not understand the point of the discussion?


I understood you were bitter.

Otherwise it seemed a pointless diatribe.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)