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New device for eyes-free texting while driving

From the if you can't beat 'em, join 'em school of product marketing, a new device called RayGo aims to make texting while driving easier and less dangerous.

Figuring that people are going to text and drive and there's little hope of that stopping any time soon, an Israeli team adapted technology designed for the blind to give drivers an eyes-free way to hear and reply to messages.

"RayGo is a product for the many of us who use their phones even though we know it's wrong, providing a much safer way to engage with your smartphone while driving," the creators wrote on their Indiegogo page, where they have surpassed their goal of raising $30,000 to fund the first round of manufacturing.

The RayGo app connects via Bluetooth to a four-way button that clips onto your steering wheel and to the car's stereo. It takes messages from other apps, including your phone's default text app, Gmail, WhatsApp, Spotify and Facebook Messenger, and reads them out loud through your car speakers. Pressing the buttons on the wheel with your thumb lets you toggle through options to skip to the next message, reply with a preset response such as, "Driving, chat in 30 minutes," or dictate an answer of your own.

Because it can all be done with voice prompts, you don't even have to take your phone out of your pocket or purse. RayGo uses your phone's GPS tracking and a gyroscope in the button device to determine if you're in the middle of a turn or are driving too fast to safely pay attention, and will automatically pause the readout until you're back on a straightaway.

One study out last year found that the risk of a crash or near-miss among young drivers increased more than sevenfold if they were dialing or reaching for a cellphone and fourfold if they were sending or receiving a text message. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nine Americans are killed every day in accidents that involve a driver who was distracted by some other activity.

New research has found that car-crash hospitalizations have fallen in states with relatively strict bans on texting and driving.

"Distracting driving is a huge issue," said CNET editor Dan Ackerman. "There's definitely a point of view that says this is a terrible idea; you should not interact with your phone while you're driving. You could also say people are going to do it anyway. We've never never been able to stop people from physically taking out their phones and texting while they're driving, so if you can make it a little bit safer maybe that's a plus."

The product is now available for preorder and will ship beginning in September. It works with Android phones and a fully functioning version for iPhones will come out later in the year.

  • Amanda Schupak

    Amanda Schupak is the science and technology editor at CBSNews.com