Device is designed to halt texting while driving

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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OrigoSafe doesn’t allow a car to be started unless the driver’s
cellphone is in the docking station. Photo courtesy Origo

Clay Skelton has come up with a way to stop people from texting while driving.

As a result, his Roanoke-based manufacturing company, Origo, received the 2015 Rising Star Award in May from the Roanoke-Blacksburg Tech Council. “I was so honored to receive that award,” Skelton says.

The National Safety Council estimates 1.3 million accidents per year, about 24 percent of all traffic crashes, involve cellphone use and texting while driving. Cellphone-related crashes result in 3,200 deaths and almost half a million injuries annually.

“For those companies that have implemented our solution, they have not only saved lives and money but have actually changed the mindset of their drivers to a more responsible and safety conscious awareness of their own driving habits,” Skelton says. “And we feel that this is the greatest benefit of all.”

Skelton started Origo in 2010 with his best friend, Brady Sheffer. He was spurred into action by two news articles. One story described a vehicle equipped with a breathalyzer to prevent a driver from getting behind the wheel after too many drinks. The second story concerned a girl who died in a crash after texting while driving.

“The drinking and driving story had an effective solution, and the other one did not,” Skelton says. “If you look at data, [many accidents are caused by] people taking their eyes off the road. We thought that taking the phone out of your hand would prevent you from taking your eyes off the road.”

His company developed the OrigoSafe, an interlocking ignition system. It includes a cellphone docking station that can be mounted on a car’s dash or console. If the phone isn’t in the docking station, the car won’t start.

“That is a way to guarantee you won’t use your phone,” Skelton says. “It doesn’t prevent you from using [a hands-free Bluetooth system], you just can’t see your phone or touch it. The system has an antitheft device for the car as well.”

Origo, which has 11 employees, sells mainly to the commercial trucking companies in the U.S. and abroad. The company also is looking at the operators of school buses as potential customers.

“The majority of our customers are business customers with fleets of vehicles,” Skelton says. “We don’t do much of a retail business but the product is available retail.”

OrigioSafe costs about $399 with installation. It has seen a recent bump in retail sales, possibly from parents buying the device for children returning to school.

The company plans to introduce a new product this fall that will be less expensive.

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