Major mobile technology firms are being urged to add ‘opt out’ driving modes to their phones to reduce the number of mobile-related deaths and injuries on the roads.
Campaign groups led by road safety charity Brake and the RAC’s Be Phone Smart have written to Google, Microsoft and the Groupe Spéciale Mobile Association, which represents almost 800 mobile operators worldwide, calling for all devices to feature as standard a mode that cuts off notifications when the user is driving.
They say that illegal phone use has reached epidemic proportions and want other major phone and software brands to follow the lead of Apple, which is to include a “do not disturb” mode for driving in its iOS 11 system update due this week.
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.”
In the letter, the coalition urges Google, which develops the Android operating system, and Microsoft, which produces Windows Mobile, to add an opt-out driving mode to their next updates. They want the system to automatically switch on by default when sensors in the handset detect the user is driving, turn the screen blank and suspend any push notifications. They also want it to send an automatic text message reply explaining that the user is driving and only be disabled if the handset is connected to hands-free system.
Studies into the impact of using a phone on driving standards show that drivers using handsets when driving are four times more likely to be in a crash that causes injury. Reaction times when using a mobile at the wheel are a staggering 33 per cent slower than when driving after drinking at the maximum England and Wales drink-drive limit. Even the sound of a mobile phone ringing has been shown to cause distraction and increase the crash risk.
Department for Transport data shows that in 2015 22 people were killed and 99 seriously injured in accidents where a driver was using a handheld phone at the time.
Despite this evidence, RAC research suggests that an estimated 11 million UK motorists make or receive calls on handheld phones and five million take photos or video while driving.
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 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.”
A spokesman for Microsoft said: “Windows Mobile offers Driving Mode, which reduces distractions from one’s phone while behind the wheel.”
Windows’ Driving Mode limits notifications on the lock screen—including texts, calls, and quick status alerts – and can send automatic replies but requires the device to be hooked up to a Bluetooth system to operate.
Google did not respond to a request for comment.