A steering wheel cover wants to stop people texting themselves to death

This smartwheel monitors a driver's hands on the wheel so they stay focused on the road instead of their phone. Would you want it keeping you honest?

Smartwheel steering wheel cover

The Smartwheel uses lighting colours and audio feedback to remind the driver to keep their hands on the wheel and off their phone.

Seamus Byrne/CNET

Would you install a steering wheel cover that can save someone you love from dangerous texting-while-driving habits?

"Distracted driving" is a nice term for talking about people dying while they text (amongst other things). According to the US Department of Transportation distraction.gov website, 3,154 people died in distraction-related car accidents in 2013 -- around nine per day. So any technology that can keep someone's hands on the wheel and off the phone has the potential to save lives.

Enter Smartwheel, a snap-on steering wheel cover that monitors hands on the wheel. The Smartwheel is aiming for a US launch toward the middle of 2016 with a price of $199 (around £135 or AU$275). It will deliver real-time alerts in three main cases: Having one hand off the wheel for too long, having both hands off the wheel at all, and having both hands too close together (because it suggests a phone is being held while driving).

The cover delivers visual and audio alerts to keep a driver focused, and logs activity via Bluetooth so a parent or a boss can learn how focused, or how dangerous, drivers are being in their car. The visual feedback in the demo suggests there is even a green light shining when you have hands in an OK position, but I worry that in itself could be a distraction, particularly when driving at night.

The material being used by the cover also has the potential to support gesture controls in future -- taps and swipes are both supported -- so instead of being nothing but a naughty stick, it could also give a sweetener that delivers control over phone functions without removing hands from a good driving position. For now, it's aiming to keep drivers honest.

It also feels nice in the hand, like a good quality steering wheel cover made from leather (I couldn't confirm with the rep what material it actually used).

The device doesn't feature any special lockdown features, relying on a trust relationship between whoever puts the Smartwheel in the car and the other people who drive it. While someone could always pull the cover off and ignore it, a parent or boss will know the device isn't logging any activity when they check in on recent logs (unless they don't even know the car was being used).

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