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  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 8:39 a.m. December 14, 2012
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Entrepreneurs
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Ron Pothul lived such an idyllic American life for nearly 40 years that he and some co-workers, phone linemen in Massachusetts, were once the inspiration for a Norman Rockwell painting.

Pothul recently turned to entrepreneurialism, however, where his story can now inspire all would-be startup business owners. “I never was a risk-taker,” says Pothul. “I was a guy who got a paycheck every two weeks for 36 years.”

Pothul, 67, hopes his next paycheck will be a hefty one, when the patented product he invented, Dock-N-Lock, hits the big time.

Dock-N-Lock, says Pothul, eradicates the problem of distracted driving — the kind where people text, call and otherwise fiddle with a cell phone or smart phone while driving. Pothul's device, when installed in a commercial fleet truck or a teenager's car, disables the vehicle from starting until the driver's phone is secure in a locked box. The device has no other impact on the vehicle, say Dock-N-Lock executives.

“We're not the only solution out there, but we're the only one that locks the phone away,” says Dock-N-Lock CEO John Arciero. “(Fleet) companies need to address the growing issue of distracted driving.”

The Dock-N-Lock system works with any cell phone or smart phone, and in any kind of car. After a driver places his phone in the box, the system searches for the driver's phone by identifying a non-removable tag placed on it, the company says. The driver can't access the phone while the engine is running.

The problem Dock-N-Lock aims to solve is clearly a big one. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 3,092 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2010. Another 416,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, the administration says. The Federal Communications Commission, while not endorsing any particular product, lists more than a dozen commercial devices for distracted driving on an information clearinghouse website that addresses the problem.

The Dock-N-Lock system, meanwhile, made its national debut at an auto industry trade show earlier this year in Las Vegas. Arciero says he and other executives met with five or six fleet company owners there who will consider test runs of the product. Arciero, however, declines to disclose projected sales for 2013. “The primary effort right now,” says Arciero, “is to get the word out.”

The company is based in Sarasota, where Pothul lives. But Arciero and some other executives work in Charlotte, N.C., so they can be close to Enventys, a product engineering and development firm that works with Dock-N-Lock.

A fleet safety supervisor for Verizon in his final few years with the firm, Pothul says he's already spent well into the six figures on Dock-N-Lock. The bulk of the money, he says, came from the 401(k) he earned with Verizon. A small amount of startup capital, about $40,000, is from friends and family, and a non-relative, says Pothul, recently invested $50,000 for a 1% stake in the business.

Pothul, though, still seeks a backer who can invest at least $1 million in Dock-N-Lock. “We are completely ready to go,” says Pothul. “I just need the bucks to get there. I'm looking for the big investor who can seize the moment and realize this can be as valuable as the windshield wiper or the seatbelt.”

Government Watch
Some entrepreneurs, like Ron Pothul of Sarasota, chairman of Dock-N-Lock, look at the problem of distracted driving from a business eye.

Florida State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, looks at the issue from the state Legislature. Detert, in fact, has sponsored a distracted-driving bill in two straight sessions, and she recently filed notice she will sponsor a bill in the 2013 session, which begins in March. The News Service of Florida reported on the latest proposed bill, which would ban drivers from manually typing or reading texts, emails or other electronic messages while operating a vehicle.

The bill would classify texting while driving a nonmoving violation, which could net a $30 fine. The violation would also be a “secondary offense,” so police could only write a ticket on it if the driver has been pulled over for another infraction. Using a hands-free device would be one of the exemptions, according to the News Service of Florida.

Florida is in the clear minority nationwide in not having any kind of distracted-driving bill. Only four other states — Arizona, Montana, South Carolina and South Dakota — are with Florida in not having official distracted-driving legislation.

 

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