Inventor's system keeps drivers off cell phones

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As a safety supervisor for Verizon employees in New York state, Ron Pothul saw firsthand the problems caused when drivers were distracted by a cell phone.

Then it really hit home.

"My daughter was 17," Pothul said. "She ran into two cars doing about 45 miles an hour ... texting while driving."

Fortunately, he said, "her car did what it was supposed to, folded up right to the firewall" and the airbag spared his daughter from serious injuries.

But the accident renewed Pothul's passion for something he had been more casually pursuing in retirement -- a foolproof system to keep drivers from using cell phones.

"He had this idea and he was getting the patents written thinking he might sell it," said Pothul's son, Jeff. "But then the crash happened and he got very serious about following through with it himself."

So today Pothul, 67 and 4 1/2 years retired from Verizon, is chairman of a fledgling company in Charlotte, N.C., called Dock-N-Lock,, which next month will do the major launch of its Surge'ON system that prevents a car from starting unless the driver's cell phone is secured in a box that can't be opened while the engine is running.

The rollout will come at the American Trucking Association's annual convention in Las Vegas, with Pothul and his son, the company's chief information officer, hoping fleet operators will see the safety -- and savings -- in installing the system.

Last year, a federal rule was enacted banning commercial truckers and bus drivers from using cell phones while driving.

"We really hope to make a statement that if you have a phone-usage policy, this is the way to enforce it," Jeff Pothul said during a phone interview last week (he wasn't driving at the time.)

Ron Pothul said the system can be installed in about 15 minutes and takes five minutes to learn to use. It involves putting a chip on the driver's phone, or the use of a bypass card for the system if another driver with a phone takes the wheel. Pothul compared the pass-card to carrying a car key.

He said a driver will be able to hear an incoming call with the phone secured, but will have to pull over and stop the engine to answer it.

Michigan is among 39 states with a ban on texting while driving, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says was a factor in 3,000 traffic deaths in 2010.

And if a driver with the Dock-N-Lock device comes upon an accident?

"Pull over... Continue reading.