A Halifax company has developed new black boxes that will silence cellphones in vehicles as a way to cut down on distracted driving.

The $169, made-in-Nova Scotia product has caught the attention of the trucking industry, police departments and major companies as far away as Australia and Central America.

"Human behaviour is the problem," said Angus Poulain, CEO of Keeping Roads Safe Technologies Inc., which developed the device.

"What we're trying to do is change human behaviour so that when you get into your car you're not going to expect to use your phone."

The company employs 12 people and some independent contractors.

Company partners with truckers

Keeping Roads Safe Technologies recently partnered with the 900-member Nova Scotia Trucking Safety Association to test the new DriveCare devices.

The association will roll the device out to about 100 companies over the next couple of weeks.

"It's a problem among all drivers everywhere, commercial or private,"  Gary Hunt, the association's safety officer, said.

"And because nowadays everything is tied to companies through trucks or transport in our industry, there's liability issues with that as well because they're driving a commercial vehicle. If they're distracted and it causes an accident, then the company becomes automatically liable." 

How it works

The small electronic device gets installed close under the dash inside a vehicle. Once an app is installed on a cellphone, the device picks up the cellphone signal and sends a locked screen to the phone, meaning the person will not be able to use their cellphone while driving.

"This is out of sight and out of mind of all the drivers, so they never have to pay attention to it, they're not distracted by having something else," Poulain said.

"It silences the phone. So while you're driving, the phone will not ring or beep or do anything."

However, a driver is still able to call 911 and four pre-programmed emergency numbers while the application is running.

Keeping Roads Safe has commissioned four Dalhousie University researchers to do a study to determine:

  • The prevalence of traumatic injury related to distracted driving.
  • Whether having the DriveCare device installed during driving changes the behaviour of drivers.

The researchers will recruit approximately 100 private and commercial drivers and follow their driving behaviours over a three-month period.

"We're the only ones in the world that are going to have this kind of in-depth study on distracted driving and how to prevent it," Poulain said.

People 'ignore the laws'

Neither Halifax Regional Police nor the Nova Scotia RCMP had figures immediately available on the number of distracted driving cases that have resulted in serious crashes or deaths. But Const. Carol McIsaac, a spokesperson for Halifax Regional Police, said cellphone use and texting while driving is a problem in the region.

"I think there are people who definitely ignore the law as far as the cellphone usage goes," McIsaac said.

"It is dangerous for even a split second to take your eye off the road. You can easily rear-end someone or someone can run out in front of you, whether it be a kid after a ball or anything."

DriveCare cell phone app

The device locks the user's screen so he or she can't use their cellphone while driving. (Gary Hunt)