Distracted drivers buying cell phone-disabling gadgets | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

People who can’t stop themselves from using their cell phone while driving have a new option – gadgets that disable cell phones while the owner is behind the wheel.

The devices are becoming more commonplace as cell phone and auto manufacturers are working harder to portray hands-free cell phone use as a safe alternative, The New York Times reported.

My colleague Emily Mapp Brannon wrote about the danger of multitasking behind the wheel earlier this year, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that drivers using a handheld device were 1.3 times more likely to get into a crash or near-crash.

Devices that disable cell phones have also drawn the attention of at least one large insurer that is offering a 5 percent discount to drivers who use one of the devices.

Generally, the devices block a cell phone based on data from the car, the phone’s GPS signal, or nearby cell towers. Inbound calls go into voice mail.

The driver can override the system and take a call, The Times said, but that may trigger an automatic e-mail to a parent, employer, or other administrator of the car and/or phone.

“If we could control ourselves, we wouldn’t need any of this technology,” Donald Powers, a managing partner at obdEdge, one of the manufacturers, told Time Times. “We know it’s such a bad habit, but we crave being connected.”

But at the same time, auto manufacturers are building more advanced hands-free systems into cars – even though some studies show that a cell phone conversation is a serious distraction.