Members of the UK Government will meet with smartphone manufacturers in early 2017 to tell them they must introduce a 'drive safe' mode to stop drivers becoming distracted at the wheel. Mobile phone companies face increasing pressure from road safety advocates and government officials to introduce software that limits the functionality of mobile phones in-car in a bid reduce road accidents.
According to research from the RAC Foundation, at least 70 fatal road accidents in Britain each year are caused by driver distraction, while around 20 fatalities are a direct result of driving while using a mobile phone. The proposed drive safe mode would function similarly to the aeroplane mode that comes built into mobile phones as standard, limiting a device's functionality to all but the most crucial features.
This could include blocking the phone once the car reaches a certain speed, which could be detected using the device's built-in GPS and accelerometer. It would also limit what the driver could do with their phone while at the wheel, potentially restricting it to only allow calls to emergency numbers.
Apple filed a patent for a similar system in 2014 that was widely praised by police and road safety campaigners. Yet smartphone manufacturers are reluctant to introduce software that forcibly limits device functionality as they believe it will drive customers towards competitors' products, instead suggesting it is up to drivers to ensure they are not using their phone illegally.
According to the Guardian, ministers and mobile phone companies are set to discuss the introduction of a drive safe mode to all future mobile phones at an "informal" meeting in Whitehall early next year. UK Transport minister Lord Ahmad told the newspaper the meeting would "consider safe drive modes, or other practical applications, when a person is driving".
Under UK law, it is illegal to use a hand-held phone or similar device to make calls or send text messages while driving. These rules apply even if you are waiting in traffic or stopped at a set of traffic lights. Laws are getting tougher in 2017, with drivers facing a £200 on-the-spot fine and six points on their license if found to be using a handheld mobile device while driving.
Figures released by the RAC in September this year revealed that 31% of drivers admitted to using a smartphone while driving, up from just 8% in 2014. The motoring charity found that 20% of drivers considered it OK to browse social media on their phone when in stationary traffic, while 14% admitted to taking videos or photographs while driving.
Gary Rae, campaigns director for road safety charity Brake, said: "We're pleased that Lord Ahmad is looking into this. The use of mobiles behind the wheel is a growing menace. Drivers who use phones, either hands-free or handheld, have been found by researchers to be four times more likely to be in a crash resulting in injuries than drivers who were not distracted.
"The technology exists now to shut off mobiles when they're in a vehicle. It just needs the political will to make this happen. We're ready to take part in any talks between government, vehicle manufacturers and mobile operators."