vrypan — Panayotis Vryonis
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A Driver Mode for smartphones.

Let’s use technology to limit -or even eliminate- distracted driving.

I was listening to the latest Note to Self podcast, where they discussed how distracted driving (a.k.a “texting and driving”) is causing a significant number of accidents and they compared it (quite reasonably) to drunk driving.

This is a real problem, one that is causing many lives to be lost each year. What is the best way to deal with it? Note To Self mentioned Ben Lieberman’s efforts to create something called the Textalyzer: Like the Breathalyzer, but for your phone.

But I think there is a better and much simpler way: a driver mode for your phone.

The Driver Mode will be something like the airplane mode your phone already has. But it will not block signal reception: Driver mode will be designed to disable (in a reasonable way) every function of your phone that may distract you while you drive.

  • Driver Mode will be automatically enabled when you start moving above a certain speed —most if not all smartphones can do this. Of course, you will be able to disable it (if for example you are just the passenger), but this will be your explicit choice.
  • In Driver Mode your smartphone’s screen will be blanc: No notifications, no widgets, nothing. Off.
  • In Driver Mode your phone will be silent. Even vibration will be disabled.
  • In Driver Mode you will not be able to make or receive calls.
  • … unless you use a hands free set or the car’s phone kit or similar “Driver Mode compatible” device.
  • The Driver Mode will be disabled as soon as you stop. So, if you want to make a call, just stop by the side and make this call, or wait for this important call.
  • There will be a standard way for anyone to check the last times the phone entered and exited Driver Mode. For example, even if the phone is locked, encrypted, etc, it could be that triple-clicking the home button will show the Driver Mode log. (More on this later.)

Of course, there’s plenty of room for mobile operating systems to add features like:

  • While in Driver Mode, a phone could respond to incoming calls with a pre-recorder voice message (or a text) that “I’m sorry, I can not respond right now because I’m driving”.
  • Developing APIs that will allow applications to support the Driver Mode. For example, a podcast app could keep on using the phone’s speakers, but it will not allow any interactivity using the phone’s screen.
  • Or maybe a car phone holder could indicate that the phone is placed on it, and the maps app can enter a special mode where turn by turn directions are allowed, but not on-screen interaction.

I mentioned before that it will be easy for anyone to check the Driver Mode recent log on your phone. Here is why:

  • It will allow a police officer to stop a driver and check if they have disabled it while driving.
  • In case of a accident, it will be easy to check if the drivers involved had Driver Mode on or off.

So, Driver Mode will:

  1. Help drivers refrain from being distracted by their smartphones while driving.
  2. Make it a personal responsibility for someone to disable it (i.e. put lives in danger). I expect this choice to also carry a moral weight, in the same way drinking alcohol before driving does.
  3. Make it easy for officers to check if a driver has Driver Mode enabled or disabled.
  4. Make drivers who explicitly disabled Driver Mode liable in case of a car accident.

If Android and iOS implemented Driver Mode, almost every phone on the market will have it, in just a couple of years. Then, it would even make sense to pass legislation that any phone sold must have a Driver Mode implementing a specific list of features.

I really don’t see why this can’t be on every new smartphone by 2018.

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