Mobile phone ‘drive-safe’ mode could limit fatal distractions

South Yorkshire Police is highlighting the dangers of distractions to young drivers.
Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

South Yorkshire Police is highlighting the dangers of distractions to young drivers. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

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“DRIVE-SAFE” modes similar to flight-safe options should be introduced to smartphones to stop potentially fatal distractions, a motoring charity has warned.

The RAC Foundation said too many people can get “distracted or overwhelmed with information” at the wheel.

It claims that each year at least 70 fatal accidents on Britain’s roads have “distraction in vehicle” as a contributory factor, while “driving using mobile phone” is cited in around 20 crashes.

Director Steve Gooding said smartphones were a “godsend” for helping drivers get directions and dodge congestion. But he warned about the potentially fatal dangers of over-relying on them.

In the UK using a hand-held phone while driving carries a penalty of three points on the motorist’s licence and a fine of £100.

Industry leaders in vehicle and phone manufacturing were interviewed by transport think-tank TRL to find out what was being done to limit distractions in car production, as there are no internationally accepted guidelines.

They found distraction was not considered a top priority in the design phase, and that it was deemed to be the driver’s responsibility to make sure their phone use complied with the law.

Without a legal requirement, few companies would impose limitations themselves because it would be a commercial handicap, the study said.

Britain has 38.5 million drivers, and two-thirds of the population now owns a smartphone, according to the foundation.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “In many ways smartphone technology and mobile communications are a godsend for road users, allowing us to do everything from getting directions to dodging congestion to calling for help if we break down.

“Yet 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 satnavs while all the other functions are still ‘live’.

“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.”

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

There are apps which drivers can voluntarily download on to their phones to help limit their functionality and hence reduce distraction.

The RAC Foundation’s call comes in the same month a campaign to focussing on young drivers was launched in South Yorkshire.

In July, South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership said there had been a 88.5 per cent increase across South Yorkshire in fatal casualties in 2015.

The Illuminate campaign, which runs throughout August, seeks to re-educate young drivers and their passengers on a range of safety issues, including not using an electronic device while at the wheel.

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings said the campaign showed how a “split second decision” could have devastating consequences.

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