Hardly a week goes by nowadays without news of a horrific vehicle crash during which a driver was using a mobile phone or other digital device.
The driver in last week’s train crash that killed 79 people in Spain was talking on the phone. On Tuesday, a bus driver talking on his cellphone crashed in West New York, killing a baby.
Public agencies and many companies have policies that attempt to prevent such tragedies, but enforcement is problematic ahead of an incident.
Vineland-based Riggins Oil, a fourth-generation family-owned and -operated company founded in 1926, is pioneering a way to address dangers posed by digital distraction.
The company announced this week that it has partnered with Cellcontrol to equip its fleet of more than 75 trucks with advanced technology that prevents drivers from using mobile phones to talk, text, email or browse the Internet whenever the vehicle is moving — even if only 1 mph.
The technology also works with tablets and laptop computers, which are more distracting.
Baton Rouge, La.-based Cellcontrol has developed patented technology that attaches to a vehicle’s onboard computer system.
The moment a vehicle is put into motion, the system sends instructions via Bluetooth to software on digital devices to disable them. When the vehicle stops, its operator’s phones, tablets and laptops are enabled again.
The beauty of the Cellcontrol system is that it doesn’t require Bluetooth pairing between the system and the devices. The connection is made automatically and is effective for a driver’s devices no matter what vehicle in the fleet is used that day.
“We chose Cellcontrol because it enabled us to set our own company distracted driving policy and enforce this policy seamlessly,” Matthew Riggins, strategy director at Riggins Oil, said in a statement. “Safety is our number one priority — not just for our own fleet, but for the communities we serve.”
Riggins Oil delivers gasoline, diesel, biodiesel and heating oil to wholesale and retail customers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
The company also operates more than 30 Riggins-branded gas stations across the region.
Consumer Reports has started rating prepaid cards, giving 26 of them the same red or black circles and half circles for performance that they famously deploy on autos, appliances and yard equipment.
The Consumers Union said it has tracked the cards for years, but with their new popularity — prepaid cards are the fastest growing U.S. payment method — and shifting fees and features, providing guidance in its magazine became appropriate.
Prepaid cards can be loaded and reloaded with cash and used like a debit or credit card for purchases. They’re popular for teenagers and college students, because parents can put money in the card and monitor the spending.
But prepaid cards can be used instead of a traditional checking account. Paychecks can be directly deposited to them and they can be used to pay bills online.
The Consumers Union previously found that checking accounts came with guaranteed protections for consumers at a lower cost than prepaid cards. Now, some cards are more competitive.
In the Consumer Reports ratings, none earned the coveted “best buy” designation that typically ensures big sales for a product, but three were “recommended.”
The top rated was the Bluebird card with direct deposit from American Express. Also recommended were the H&R Block Emerald Prepaid MasterCard and the Green Dot Card from Green Dot Bank.
These best prepaid cards each had high scores in four performance categories: value, convenience, safety, and fee accessibility and clarity.
“All the best prepaid cards have few types of fees, and offer consumers opportunities to avoid fees. Each is safe to use, carrying FDIC insurance to the individual cardholder. All are convenient, with functionality that in many ways is on par with a checking account,” the consumer group said in its 30-page report.
Of course, for every good there must be a bad.
Oddly enough, American Express also offers the worst card: American Express for Target. Its score is 17 out of a possible 100, compared with 80 for its top-rated Bluebird card.
Consumer Reports says the worst prepaid cards have high and unavoidable fees, including activation and monthly fees. Consumers also are going to be hard pressed to find out and understand those fees.
The Consumers Union called on the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is considering new rules for prepaid cards, to improve fee disclosure, limit unfair prepaid card practices, and require the same legal protections that cover debit cards.
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