People know they shouldn’t text and drive. Overwhelmingly, they tell pollsters that doing so is unacceptable and dangerous, and yet they do it anyway. They can’t resist. So safety advocates and public officials have called for a technological solution that does an end run around free will and prevents people from texting in the first place.
That’s where Scott Tibbitts comes in. A chemical engineer who built a company that made motors and docking stations for NASA, Mr. Tibbitts, 57, spent the last five years coming up with a novel way to block incoming and outgoing texts and to prevent phone calls from reaching a driver.
He wasn’t some crazy inventor or relentless self-promoter acting on his own. To bolster his engineering solution, he struck a partnership with two heavyweights: American Family Insurance, which agreed to invest in the technology, and, even more important, with Sprint. It agreed to allow Mr. Tibbitts’s company, Katasi, to use its network to stop texts. It was a kind of holy grail, safety advocates gushed, a first for an American phone carrier.
The product was being completed in February for a summer start — “a huge deal,” as it was characterized by David Teater, senior director for transportation initiatives at the National Safety Council, which works to curb distracted driving. Sprint hailed it as a major step. It seemed to answer a call from people like Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West...