Today we appear on the cover of the business section in the Chronicle Herald in Halifax, NS (original link):
Fumbling to change the radio station was once a big reason drivers became distracted behind the wheel.
That’s no longer the case, as smartphones and social media have become the biggest concern for authorities in their bid to educate people on the importance of keeping their attention focused on the road.
The statistics are sobering, as distracted driving has become one of the leading causes of death on Nova Scotia highways. To combat that, the province increased fines Feb. 1 for drivers caught texting or using a hand-held cellphone behind the wheel.
But Angus Poulain sees the problem only getting worse before it gets better.
A father of six, Poulain remembers hearing “just slight little things” about texting and driving when he was teaching his teenagers to drive about five years ago.
“Fast forward to this year, I have a set of twins that just turned 16 in April and they’re now at the learning stage; they have their beginner’s licence here in Nova Scotia,” he said.
“We all know, everybody knows that texting and driving and Facebook and notifications and all that stuff is a major problem. It’s not going to go away. Public awareness and education is just not going to work; it hasn’t been working, no matter how much money they pour into it.”
It’s why about four years ago, Poulain, who is also CEO of Western Tradesmen Inc. andCanWest Industrial in Alberta, began working part time on a project to develop a device to help decrease distracted driving.
Poulain and his engineering team made a breakthrough this year, created a base in Halifax and are ready to market the device as Keeping Roads Safe Technologies Inc.
“So it’s been kind of a temporary thing over the last few years, but this year in particular we made terrific strides and we are at the point now where we’re making it available to corporations all across Canada,” he said.
The company provides instructions for mechanics to install the technology into the dashboard of a vehicle “so it’s hidden away; it’s a nondescript device.”
Before installation, companies or parents can program their employees’ or children’s phone numbers into the device. The technology can identify when the owner of a particular phone enters and starts the vehicle.
“When the vehicle is started, all notifications, text messages, Facebook stuff and phone calls are all delayed,” Poulain said.
“When the vehicle is stopped and shut off, that person will receive a text with all their missed phone calls. All their texts would then come through and all their notifications, but their vehicle would have to be stopped.
“So when little Johnny or whatever gets in the car and says, ‘Mom, I promise you I won’t be texting,’ you can be rest assured that he won’t be.”
Poulain stressed that his technology does not block or jam a cellular signal but delays it.
The device will allow emergency calls to go through to 911, as well as four numbers pre-programmed by companies or parents.
Once it’s in the dashboard, it can’t be tampered with without someone knowing about it.
“We get a notification and then the owner will get a notification if the device has been tampered with,” he said.
“So if a teenager is driving down the road and they want to talk to their buddies and they say ‘Let’s just rip that out of their car,’ then we know, and so will their parent, or employer, for that matter.”
Poulain has begun doing demonstrations for potential corporate clients and plans to introduce the product to the United States market in the fall. After that, he hopes for a rollout to consumers by Christmas, though he’s still doing market research to determine what the device will cost.
The corporate response thus far has been positive, he said.
“We started making inroads because I have a lot of deep-rooted relationships with companies in Western Canada, and everybody, especially from a corporate point of view, is extremely conscious about safety.”
He said he’s aware it will be a tough habit to break because many people enjoy being connected at all times.
“I’m guilty of it myself. It’s a bad habit.
“If I leave my cellphone somewhere and I go down the road, I’m thinking, ‘Oh my god, am I missing calls?’”
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