Government considering technology to prevent mobiles being used in cars

12.00 | 19 December 2016 | | 9 comments

Drivers could see their mobile phone signal automatically blocked while at the wheel, under new technology being considered by the DfT.

Reported by the Times on Saturday (17 Dec), the software would block a mobile signal in a moving vehicle, preventing users from making calls and sending and retrieving texts and emails.

The Times says the DfT is planning to sit down with network providers and handset manufacturers in the new year to discuss the technology further.

The move is part of ongoing Government efforts to crack down on illegal mobile phone use by drivers; in October, it announced that penalties are to double to six points and a £200 fine.

The increase in penalty points – which means an immediate ban for newly-qualified drivers who have a ceiling of six points for the first two years after passing the test – has been welcomed by stakeholders including Road Safety GB, the RAC and IAM RoadSmart.

A poll on the Metro website, which attracted more than 3,000 responses, suggests that 44% would back the move to introduce the new signal blocking technology.

The Times also points to statistics which show that almost one in three drivers admitted to having used their phone at the wheel in the past year.

A DfT spokesperson said: “We are determined to crack down on mobile phone use at the wheel.

“Our plans to double penalties for this serious crime should act as an incredibly strong deterrent.

“We will continue to explore what more can be done to tackle this crime.”

The move has been welcomed by the RAC, who says "technology has a significant role to play in making driving safer".

Pete Williams, RAC road safety spokesman, said: “The reality is that cars will become increasingly sophisticated and enabled with connected, mobile-phone based technology – but we have to ensure that this makes them safer and less distracting.

“To this end a ‘drive safe’ mode has a role to play in helping motorists do the right thing while behind the wheel. Indeed, many smartphones already have a ‘do not disturb’ function that, when activated, limits some intrusive phone alerts.

 “Technology can help, but on its own it is unlikely to be enough. We need a comprehensive package of actions to tackle the problem at every level, from the stronger penalties due next year, to tougher enforcement, combined with a greater focus on engaging drivers themselves on the issue in an effort to make them want to change their own behaviour – and in turn make our roads safer.”



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    Sometimes it’s necessary to dial 999 whilst on the move and is currently an exemption to prosecution – will that still be possible?

    Hugh Jones
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    I’m forced to take issue with the idea of how compliant drivers could be targeted, inconvenienced or victimised by laws which, by definition, must reflect their behaviour rather serve to constrain it. Which is how most UK law does actually work – law making bodies having long acknowledged that enforceability requires high levels of natural compliance derived from a general public acknowledgement that any specific law is broadly fair and justified. Laws that don’t comply with this basic principle tend not to be made in the UK, or be very short lived.

    Also “they are enforced regardless of whether there are any victims of the offence and regardless of whether any actual harm or danger was likely to occur as a result of the offence” – which is classic misreading of the consequences of driving behaviours which result in no tangible incident but which nevertheless increase the background level of risk to which all road users are exposed. The flawed concept of the victimless crime is endemic and arguably creates untold harm across all sectors of society – and road traffic violations are no exception.

    The suggestion that a driver may be considered ‘safe and courteous’ whilst driving with 81mg of alcohol because their journey is short and local is about as good an example I can think of to illustrate how flawed a concept this is. Setting aside what many may consider to be a slightly repugnant proposition and just looking at the practicalities, a two mile journey may involve several thousand inter-user ‘conflicts’ in the normal run of things, and each of those other road users would, in this example, experience an increased level of risk even though they may be unaware of it and even though an incident may not occur. That’s fundamentally unacceptable and entirely at odds with the endeavours of many road safety professionals who struggle to create an environment in which legitimate errors and lapses can occur without serious harm, and who would find it impossible to manage a road network exposed to the behaviours of users who thought it acceptable to reinterpret the law to suit their individual circumstances.

    Jeremy, Devon
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    Gary, that is how most road law works:- it targets, inconveniences and even victimises the legitimate motorised road users who do their best to comply with the unfathomable plethora of unnecessarily technical rules – whilst having little or no impact on the anti-social user, outwith the law, who deliberately abuse the roads and deliberately abuse other road users.

    The problem is that current road law largely consists of purely technical offences which rely on legitimate vehicle registration and legitimate driver licensing to be able to enforce them, and they are enforced regardless of whether there are any victims of the offence and regardless of whether any actual harm or danger was likely to occur as a result of the offence. The consequence is that those who do not correctly register their vehicles and who do not have valid driving licences are free to behave as they please, endangering and even injuring others and their property and are unhindered and not inconvenienced in any way by the laws designed only to catch only those who do their best to comply.

    A more just, and probably more effective (in terms of road safety consequences), system might be one which targets those who are behaving inappropriately on the roads and who are wantonly disregarding societal expectations for safe and courteous road use, regardless of how they use the road (on foot, on a bike, in a car), regardless of what their blood-alcohol content is, regardless at what speed they are travelling at and regardless of whether they have their mobile phone switched on.

    I’d rather that 10 wantonly dangerous alcohol-free drivers travelling at 20mph were taken off the streets (even if using unregistered vehicles or if unlicensed) than that 100 safe, courteous and legally registered drivers were banned for driving a couple of miles home with 81mg of alcohol or for driving at 100 mph on a clear motorway, whilst causing no real danger at all.

    Charles, England
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    James Fee has put his finger on the cultural problem. It’s only the most ill-mannered amongst us who consider that they have the right to use their mobile phones at all times.

    Andrew Fraser
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    Tim, whilst I understand that you feel your car being able to handle all the intricacies that your phone may offer, I fear that turning cars into “offices on wheels” is a dangerous concept, after all, I wouldn’t want to be composing a text verbally whilst driving.

    One of the bigger issues with phone usage isn’t the hands free kit, but the psychology of making a phone call. We can have all our limbs at the ready to complete the “automatic” tasks associated with driving, however, it’s fair to say that the driving environment is anything but automatic. If one is to be concentrating on making a phone call, or composing a text, they’re taking their attention away from the driving environment, the most changeable aspect of driving.

    A quick note on the article. I feel that we’re heading in the correct direction with looking at ways to minimise phone usage whilst driving, however, I do feel like I am continually saying no to these new ideas, without being able to offer any of my own.

    As someone who splits their commute between driving and public transport, I’d be averse to the idea of losing the functionality of my phone whilst using public transport. Similarly, I have no doubt any passengers of mine would find a “block” on their phone unnecessary, when only the drivers phone need be affected. This point further emphasises that the issue with mobile phone usage is less a driver issue and more a cultural issue (i.e. we have a right to use our mobile phones at all times).

    James Fee, Nottingham
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    I see this as missing the point and targeting also the good drivers who already comply with the law and for passengers who are not behind the wheel. I fully support the increase in points and fine for using whilst driving, however it would be good to see more police on the roads in unmarked vehicles and enforcing the law, which in turn should send the word out.

    Gary Cullen, littleport
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    Surely this approach is completely missing the point. Recent high profile cases of mobile phone misuse highlight the fact that commercial vehicles which by definition require driver communication do not have hands free technology installed. Although this will be standard in newer vehicles there is a strong case for legislation insisting vehicles used for commercial purposes and LGV or above have this installed. My two year Toyota handles calls and reads texts to me allowing me to reply to the same. Why not a delivery lorry?

    Tim of Basingstoke
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    What Government is going to pass legislation that stops a mobile phones being used while on the move? It would impact on all means of transport regardless of being a driver or a passenger. Any technology that requires the user to actively put a phone into non use due to moving already exists, it’s called the off switch which is easily ignored. Ministers would need to pass legislation that will stop them using their mobiles in the back of their ministerial cars. Technology alone will not work to stop the problem.

    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    The technology is already available:

    Leo Bentvelzen, Holland
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

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