Canadian software company Aegis Mobility has developed a service that will shut down cell phones while their owners are driving. The software uses GPS to detect whether the phone is in a moving car. If it is, it tells the network to hold calls and text messages until the car has stopped moving. Callers can override block if with emergency voice mail. 911 is never blocked.

“Cell phone driving is the drunken driving of the new millennium,” wrote the Washing Post’s Dan Carney in 2005.

A 2006 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found that cell phones were the cause of 7 percent of traffic accidents. Aegis Mobility also cites a University of Utah study that shows that cell phone drivers are more impaired than legally drunk ones.

Hands-free is not the answer: it’s the distraction of conversation, not the act of holding a phone, that causes accidents: 80% of crashes are due to inattention.

The software is being marketed at two main groups: families and corporations, who are liable for their drivers. The most useful feature of DriveAssistT is its web monitoring – parents can in this way know if their teenagers are using the phone while talking.

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. will offer discounts of between 3 and 10 percent to family policies using DriveAssistT.

Aegis Mobility is currently negotiating with carriers to provide their plan, which is expected to cost between $10 and $20 per month.

Several states have banned the use of cell phones while driving. In California, where the use of hand-held phones while driving is against the law, many drivers can still be seen using them.

The fatal September wreck of an L.A. commuter train whose engineer was texting seconds before the crash has increased attention to the dangers of using cell phones while driving. 25 people were killed and more than 130 people were injured in that accident, after which California banned the use of cell phones by train drivers.

By Mark Alvarez