Since many transit companies have zero-tolerance policies toward cell phone use, Phone Blox helps employers keep seasoned drivers and save on the cost of replacing and retraining new workers. Photo by Patrick Yursik
In May, Ginny Foster left Saint Louis University as a graduate of Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology. It didn't take long for her to come back, but this time she returned as founder of RedLine Electronics and creator of Phone Blox. And starting this semester, Foster's innovation can be found on all Billiken Shuttle Service buses.
Phone Blox is a simple lock-box device that prevents drivers from using their cell phones while operating a vehicle. It acts as a physical barrier between a driver and a cell phone and only allows access to a cell phone after the vehicle is parked and ignition disengaged.
"It's a great way to create safe cell phone habits over time," says Foster. "Phone Blox enables drivers to follow a pre-trip protocol for cell phone safety. It limits the liability of the shuttle company and also demonstrates to passengers a strong commitment to cell phone safety."
|The device installs onto vehicles simply and does not jam cell phone signals, which leaves the device on and available for emergency calls. Photo by Patrick Yursik|
Phone Blox was developed by Foster over the course of a summer while she was a sophomore level engineering student. She launched RedLine Electronics to market the device and pitched the concept to key decision makers in Nashville, Tenn., in 2010. Nashville's Metro Transit Authority agreed and the device was installed on nearly 200 of the system's buses. Since then, there have been no reported violations of its zero-tolerance cell phone policy and no customer complaints about cell phone use by drivers.
According to Rebecca Mitrovich, a current SLU student who works with Foster at RedLine Electronics, SLU is the first university to take initiative to encourage transportation safety in this way. There are currently no other institutions that have directly addressed the challenge of cell phone safety within their shuttle systems.
"We noticed increasing concern coming from students," says Mitrovich. "Students are more aware of the dangers of distracted driving. This is an easy solution that addresses a growing problem."
The National Safety Council estimates that one in every ten drivers is on the phone at any given time. With the Billiken shuttles navigating city streets and highways, maneuvering among hundreds of cars each day, maximum driver focus is a pressing concern.
RedLine Electronics hopes to use the experience with SLU to break into other university markets, such as the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, which serves 10 million people with 21 routes.
Foster has had a series of successes since launching her company. Phone Blox has won top transportation industry awards, including the American Public Transportation Association 2010 GOLD Safety Award, and has brought increased safety and cost savings to the city buses in Nashville. Her efforts have also received coverage by the St. Louis Business Journal and Parks College.