Talking or texting on mobile phones while driving could soon become a quaintly dangerous custom of the past. Researchers at the University of Utah have created an ignition key for cars that prevents the driver from talking on a cell phone or sending text messages while driving. A device encloses the car key and connects wirelessly with the user’s cell phone via Bluetooth or RFID technologies. When the key is removed or released from the device, a signal is sent to the driver’s cell phone, placing it in “drive” mode and preventing any calls or texts other than to preapproved numbers such as 911. Incoming calls and messages are answered with an automated message stating that the user is driving and will reply later. When the key is removed from the ignition and placed back in the device, the cell phone is signaled to return to normal.

Patented and licensed as the Key2SafeDriving system, the technology should be available in the coming year at a per-key rate of not more than $50 plus a monthly fee. The company licensing the technology from the University of Utah plans to license the device to cell phone service providers to include in their service plans.

The research was prompted by a University of Utah medical student who was appalled when he saw a teenage girl texting on her cell phone while driving. Wally Curry, now a urologist practicing in Kansas, collaborated with University of Utah assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering Xuesong Zhou to create the technology. To learn more, see Key2SafeDriving’s website