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UK road safety coalition calls on mobile industry to help cut driver distraction caused by phones

Transport Xtra Online - Mark Moran

Letter asks Android and Microsoft to follow Apple's lead on 'Do not disturb while driving' setting for smartphones...

Technology to automatically prevent distracting alerts while driving, the coalition warns, is urgently needed to tackle deaths and serious injuries caused by drivers using handheld mobile phones behind the wheel, says a coalition of road charities and organisations.

The coalition has written to Android, Microsoft and the GSMA (Groupe Spéciale Mobile Association) urging them to include an ‘opt out’ driving mode as standard across mobile handsets.

The letter comes ahead of Apple's expected release this week of its iOS 11 system update, which will include a ‘Do not disturb while driving’ mode that detects when someone is driving and turns off calls, text messages and notifications.

The new feature has been welcomed by road safety charity Brake and the RAC’s Be Phone Smart campaign, along with the Brighton & Hove City Council, Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety (PACTS), RED Driving School, Road Safety GB and RoadPeace.

The group says the illegal use of handheld mobile phones at the wheel is now at “epidemic proportions”, with an estimated 11m UK motorists admitting to making or receiving a call while driving and five million saying they have taken photos or videos while at the wheel of a moving vehicle.

In its letter, the coalition urges Android and Microsoft to follow suit, pledging to roll out an opt out driving mode in their next updates which will:

Automatically, as a default setting, switch on when sensors in the handset detect the user is driving;
Turn the screen blank and suspend any push notifications
Be able to send automatic replies via SMS to anyone contacting the user to inform them that they are driving
Only permit the handset to be used in conjunction with a hands-free device when enabled
Provide evidence that the phone was in ‘drive safe’ mode – potentially leading to reduced insurance premiums.
The alliance says that drivers using handsets when driving are four times more likely to be in a crash that causes injury and reaction times, when using a mobile at the wheel, are a staggering 33% slower than when driving after drinking at the maximum England and Wales drink drive limit. Studies have also shown that the mere sound of a mobile phone ringing causes distraction and can increase the crash risk, says the coalition.

In 2015, the latest year for which figures are available in Great Britain, Department for Transport statistics show that 22 people were killed and 99 were seriously injured in incidents where a driver was using their handheld phone behind the wheel. However, the alliance accepts there are likely to be many more crashes where the illegal use of a mobile phone was a contributory factor.

The coalition concludes its letter by stating that “no call, text or social media update is worth risking a life” and that the mobile phone industry has “a major part to play in reducing the distraction caused by phones in the car”, reducing deaths and serious injuries across the globe.

Brake director of Campaigns, Jason Wakeford, said: “The illegal use of handheld mobile phones when driving is a growing menace and a major threat to road safety. Research shows that using a phone at the wheel affects reaction times as much as drink-driving, increasing the chances of a crash. As a society, we have become addicted to our mobile phones, but a split second distraction caused by a call, text or notification behind the wheel can be deadly. The industry must play its part and include technology as standard which helps keep drivers’ attention on the road, saving lives and preventing serious injuries.”

RAC Be Phone Smart spokesman Pete Williams said: “Illegal handheld phone use is one of the biggest in-car problems of our time and it will take a concerted effort to get the message across to drivers that it’s simply not okay. We need organisations to work together and to come up with creative ways of helping drivers realise that no text or tweet while driving is worth the risk.

“Apple’s imminent iOS update is a major step forward and will mean that handsets used by millions of people will, for the first time, include in-built software that can reduce the distraction risk posed by handheld phones. Now we need the other major operating systems – Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile – to follow suit.”