ZEPHYRHILLS — Brandon Butts figures most people know that texting and driving is dangerous. But are they willing to spend money to stop themselves from doing it?
He hopes so.
The 26-year-old computer repair guy has invented a device that automatically prevents drivers from texting while behind the wheel. Called the Quiet Zone Drive, the $329.99 gadget can be permanently installed into a car's dash or plugged into a cigarette lighter. Any phone that comes near it is blocked from texting, provided the phone has downloaded the free Quiet Zone application available through the Google Play store. Get of out the car, and the phone reverts to normal.
The thumb-sized drive device targets people "who just can't help themselves.'' Butts expects it will especially be a hit among parents of teenagers who are increasingly at risk of having an accident while finger-tapping messages and driving. He points to a study out last month by the Cohen Children's Medical Center in New York that shows texting and driving has surpassed drunken driving as the leading cause of death among teens. Each year, it kills more than 3,000 teens nationwide, versus 2,700 for drunken driving.
Among the rationale? Teens might not drink every day but they are certainly texting every day.
The Quiet Zone Drive evolved from a related device that Butts developed in January to silence his phone after a hectic day of nonstop ringing. The $279.99 Quiet Zone Hush puts phones with the app in silent mode once in the range of the device, which plugs into an electrical outlet.
Butts designed the Hush for movie theaters, churches, doctors' offices and other places that discourage cell phone use. A sticker by the door with Quewey, the Quiet Zone's mascot, alerts people that they are entering a Quiet Zone and are encouraged to download the app to silence their phones. People who don't have the app are not affected.
From the Hush evolved the Quiet Zone Drive for cars. The timing couldn't have been better.
Last month, Florida made texting while driving a secondary violation, meaning a motorist would have to commit another offense, such as careless driving or speeding, in order to be pulled over. At the time, Florida was just one of five states without any texting bans. Thirty-nine states prohibit texting while driving and six have partial bans.
Florida's law takes effect Oct. 1.
Butts has a patent pending on the Quiet Zone system and recently started taking preorders for the car device online at quiet-zone.com.
"We have high hopes for this and hope it will make an impact,'' said Ken Keith, a retired Zephyrhills police detective who invested in the project. "It's not a big investment that could save lives.''
Keith envisions insurance companies catching on to the product and offering discounts for drivers with them installed on their vehicles, much like Progressive does with its Snapshot device that rewards safe drivers. It also could become an optional or standard feature in new cars.
Butts hopes to get the app on iPhones and eventually sell the devices in stores nationwide. Or maybe a major company will discover Quiet Zone and buy him out.
For now, the former Marine Reservist operates out of a small storefront at 38501 Fifth Ave. in Zephyrhills from which he runs his computer company, Anything Computers.
"This is such a simple solution,'' he said. "I hear stories all the time about people texting and driving. I see it on the road, and it's scary.''
Susan Thurston can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 225-3110.