Smart key would disable teens' phones while driving

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"If you're in driving mode, you can't talk or text. Period."

Besides being a good candidate for 2009's version of "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up," that line from a promotional YouTube video for Key2SafeDriving sums up the idea behind a new device aimed at curbing in-car cell phone use.

The device goes a step beyond Ford's MyKey, which, starting in 2009, will let parents make sure their teen drivers wear seatbelts, and can govern a car's top speed and stereo volume.

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Developed by researchers at the University of Utah, the Key2SafeDriving concept disables a driver's ability to send or receive calls or text messages by encasing a car key in a Bluetooth-enabled device.

When you remove the key from the device (to put it in the ignition, for instance), it cuts off the phone from the outside world. Incoming calls and texts are replied to automatically with a message telling them that the person is driving. Pull over, pop the key back into the device, and the driver is free to gab or text away. Another part of the scheme is to collect driving data with the device to let parents – and insurance companies – keep an eye on teen drivers.

While the scripted video is funny, texting while driving is no laughing matter. Following a handful of states including California, "legislatures in at least 13 other states are considering some kind of ban on drivers tapping out text messages," the Monitor reported in July.

Kaysville, Utah-based Accendo LC has licensed the technology and is sorting out how to bring it to market sometime next year.

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