Thursday 25th August 2016
Should your phone have a ‘Drive Safe’ mode?

The use of mobile phones whilst behind the wheel is still a major concern for road safety. Not only are smart-phones used for making calls and sending text messages, but improved services such as 4G are meaning they are increasingly being used as sat nav devices, and perhaps more worryingly, ensuring you stay connected to social media and emails at all times. This creates a huge distraction, and a dangerous one at that.

Rob Hull, The Daily Mail, reports:

  • RAC Foundation says at least 70 road deaths a year due to distraction
  • 20 of these are due to drivers using their phone at the wheel
  • One in five parents admit they've checked their phone with kids onboard
  • Is distraction considered during phone development? Experts say no
  • 'You're driving too fast' - more vocal back-seat drivers would improve road safety, insurer claims     

You've heard of 'Airplane Mode' or the 'Flight Safe' setting but now there's a call for smartphone makers to add a 'Drive Safe' mode feature to help reduce the number of road fatalities.

The RAC Foundation said that at least 70 road deaths each year are attributed to 'distraction in vehicle' with 20 of these due to drivers using a mobile phone.

The motoring group said its motorists who should be responsible for using the setting - rather than it being automated.

According to the latest results from the Department for Transport, of 88 distracted-driver deaths in 2015, 17 were due to mobile phone use.

That doesn't come as much of a surprise, with a recent study across England and Scotland observing 1.6 per cent of all drivers spotted using a hand-held device behind the wheel.

A more worrying statistic is the number of parents who say they check their phone while they're driving - according to leasing firm OSV, 21 per cent of mums and dads have used their device when the kids are in the back seats. 

But what's being done to restrict the use of smartphones behind the wheel?

To find out, the RAC Foundation commissioned surveys and interviews with a range of experts - including representatives from vehicle manufacturers, telecoms providers and phone manufacturers – to gauge what the industry is doing to limit the use of potentially distracting technology in the car.

The group found that, while a great deal of thought goes into the design of built-in equipment and dashboard layout, when it comes to products like smartphones there's little consideration given to distracting impact behind the wheel at the design phase.

Those surveyed also said it was up to the driver to make sure the use of the technology complied with the law while driving and few companies would incorporate limitations for their use in cars without a legal obligation.

But despite there being no internationally accepted guidelines and standards specifically related to the design of mobile phones and communications devices for use while driving, many believed that fleet and safety managers could force phone-makers to introduce some form of driving safe mode to meet legal and moral duties to protect employees and the public.

WHY CAN'T PHONE MAKERS AUTOMATICALLY RESTRICT USE BEHIND THE WHEEL?

There has been plenty of discussion about incorporating technology into mobile phones to restrict drivers behind the wheel from being able to operate them, however, there are hurdles preventing this feature.

While a system that detects when a phone is moving at vehicle speeds would be able to lock a driver's device, there would be no method of unlocking secondary devices in the vehicle being used by passengers.

Not only that, a speed-associated restriction would also mean a phone would lock the user out on any mode of transport, including trains and buses.

That said, there is a range of apps which drivers can voluntarily download onto their phones to help limit their functionality.

Do-not-disturb functions are also available on handsets themselves, although are not specifically related to driving.

But as it is the driver's prerogative to active these applications and settings, there are no guarantees they'll always be in use.

Steve Gooding, director of the motoring association, said: 'The more functionality our cars and electronic devices have, the greater the chance that drivers get distracted or overwhelmed with information, particularly when using smartphones as Sat Navs while all the other functions are still ‘live’.

'A key question is where responsibility lies. Many in the industry say the onus must be on the user rather than the manufacturer.

'There may come a day when autonomous cars allow us to spend all our time looking at our mobile, tablet and computer screens.

'Until then as drivers we need to make sure we have our eyes on the road.'

Insurer Aviva also found that two in five drivers admit to using a phone when driving, though the best way to cut usage behind the wheel was through education.

'The vast majority of people will agree that driving and using a mobile phone is dangerous and wrong, but yet more than 40 per cent of drivers admit it’s something they still do from time to time,' said Peter Markey, brand and marketing communications director at the insurance firm.

'Our research has shown that as well as using phones to make calls while driving, more and more people are checking messages and social media while behind the wheel, so the dangers are very real.'

More back seat drivers would improve road safety, Allianz says

Another former of driver distraction comes from other passengers in the vehicle.

However, insurer Allianz said a greater number of vocal 'back seat drivers' - those who speak up and ask drivers to slow down or sit further back from the vehicle they're following - would make the roads safer.

Its own research found that 59 per cent of people have felt unsafe as a passenger in a car, though more than half of these people won't speak up as they want to remain polite.

And it's friends who cause the most anxiety, with 50 per cent of the 2,021 respondents saying it was a mate who made them feel the most unsafe. Just 17 per cent said they wanted to say something when a partner was driving.

But despite passengers' hesitation to say anything, the majority of drivers said they'd change how they drove, with 94 per cent claiming they'd kerb their poor habits to put other occupants at ease.

Alan Gairns, product manager, said: 'Whilst drivers don’t want a running commentary on their driving the results of the research clearly show that drivers will change their driving behaviour if a passenger is feeling anxious.

'Passengers shouldn’t be afraid to voice their concerns and who knows, it could be the difference between being involved in an accident or getting to your destination safely.'

This clearly isn’t a generation problem, as parents have admitted to using their mobile phones whilst driving too. Therefore, it’s the technology itself has come under scrutiny, with the idea of a ‘Drive Safe’ mode to eradicate the use of mobile phones whilst driving.

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