NSW Police statistics on the number of people being caught using their mobile phones are alarming and disturbing, particularly when paired with the very real tragedy being faced by the families of Senior Constables Jonathon Wright and Matthew Foley who were struck by a an alleged texting driver at an RBT on Friday Night.
We are constantly connected, our emails, text messages, WhatsApp messages and social media alerts ping audibly as a tease to us to just look and see what it is.
It happens by the bedside table, it happens in workplace meetings but most dangerously of all it’s happening every single day in our cars.
You think it’s fine – you’re on a straight road there’s nothing that could happen. You’re at the lights so there’s nothing wrong with it? Wrong – there’s plenty wrong with it and there is only one solution – remove the temptation.
Most mobile phone users are blissfully unaware that built into some phones and available on almost all phones have features to disable notifications while driving, while hundreds of modern cars on sale today have features built in to make driving safer with your mobile phone.
Given our reliance on the mobile phone for everything from navigation to music it’s impossible to suggest we outright ban phones in cars. Podcast listening is growing, music subscriptions keep people entertained and we’re using smartphone mapping programs to get from A to B – this makes an outright ban impossible.
Setup “signal blockers” to stop phones working
It’s a common suggestion that we put signal blockers in cars so mobile phones won’t work. Great idea! Until you realise there can be passengers in the car who can legally and safely use their phone, not to mention the almost impossible nature of blocking a mobile signal to a single seat let along a single car.
There are also many times when calling emergency services may be impacted by such technology – causing greater problems in the long run.
Do Not Disturb While Driving
The most effective safety measure for mobile phone users in cars is to block notifications to remove the temptation of the notifications that flow through on our shortest or longest journeys.
Apple iPhone users running the company’s latest iOS 11 operating system can take advantage of a new mode Apple created called “Do Not Disturb While Driving”. Once enabled, this mode automatically turns on when you are connected by Bluetooth to your car, or when it detects you are travelling in a car.
When enabled, no notifications are shown on screen and no audible sounds are made to indicate new messages. This includes SMS, Email, Social Media, WhatsApp – everything.
For SMS messages the system goes one step further and sends an automatic reply to the sender advising them you are driving and that your message will be attended to when you arrive at your destination.
While not built into Android phones, there are many apps that can do the same thing for users on phones other than iPhone.
Samsung Galaxy users can download “Car Mode” which enables a very simple large icon-based screen which allows just the basic functions of the phone, and are all controlled by voice.
You can choose “messages”, but you can’t see them or read them – instead the app reads them for you and you can dictate your reply.
Parents of teenagers especially should be implementing these features immediately for their kids who statistically are at a very high risk.
Apple CarPlay & Android Auto
In recent years both Apple and Google have been working with car manufacturers to include their own infotainment interface into new cars. Known as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, compatible cars allow you to connect your smartphone and the centre “radio” screen becomes an extension of that phone.
Large icons, only approved apps and again a heavy reliance on voice control.
Having Siri read your messages to you as they come in, and allowing you to reply with your voice dictating to Siri can be a complete game-changer given it works without you ever taking your eyes off the road any more than you would when changing radio station.
Both systems are available in a huge range of cars from Holden to Ford, Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Suzuki and many more. Older cars can be retro fitted with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible head-units.
Technology has caused this problem, and rightly technology should fix it. Your own stubbornness could cost lives on the road – so put down the phone, enable these safe driving modes and be safe on our roads.