Neville Hobson

A simple answer to texting while driving

With a lot of cars on the UK roads this Bank Holiday weekend, it’s a fair bet that quite a few drivers will be using their mobile phones while driving their vehicles.

While holding a mobile device in your hand and using it when driving is illegal in the UK, hands-free use isn’t. So if you have a means to use your phone while not handling it, you should be ok as far as the law is concerned.

Yet is hands-free use still safe? I don’t think so. I rarely use a phone in my car on hands free unless I’m in  a traffic jam as I think you’re still distracted whether it’s hands free or sticking the phone to your ear. You’re concentrating on that conversation rather than your driving. So I tend to have the phone either switched off entirely (a definite must for motorway driving, in my view) or on mute including turning off call vibrate. It’s usually switched off entirely.

And what about using your phone for texting while driving? ‘Texting’ meaning anything that isn’t voice, eg, SMS, email, Twitter, social network updates, checking your calendar, etc, and that requires you to handle the phone rather than talk to it via a hands-free connection.

Why anyone would even consider texting while driving their vehicle is beyond me. Check this video for a hard-hitting and graphic illustration of the fatal consequences that can happen if you do.

The video was produced by Gwent Police in Wales last year and I posted about it at the time. While the emergency services people you see are real, the people in the cars are actors and what happens to them is the result of some pretty outstanding special effects.

[…] Over 300 teenagers from all over Wales were auditioned to take part in the film, nine police vehicles were involved and both the police and air ambulance helicopters featured. State of the art digital special effects were utilised to show the impact of what would happen inside the car during impact.

[…] Chief Inspector John Pavett from Gwent Police Roads Policing Unit hopes the serious message in this film will hit home to viewers. […] “I hope that after watching this film motorists will think twice before picking up their mobile phone when behind the wheel and realise that a quick reply to a text message or answering a phone call is never worth putting theirs and other peopleâ€s lives at risk.”

As I mentioned, the video is graphic in its portrayal of the fatal consequences that happened in this case from the driver typing a text message on her mobile phone while driving a car, and may upset you. It’s not so much what you actually see, more thinking about what you’re seeing. Be prepared to be shocked.

So what can you do to lessen the risks? There is the obvious – don’t use your phone at all, for any purpose, when driving! That’s a problem for some people, though, who believe they absolutely have to interact with texters somehow, even if only to let them know that they can’t engage right now as they’re driving.

Via Gizmodo comes news of SMS Replier which could be the answer for that.

[…] this app will know when you’re driving. So not only can you set customized replies, you can also choose how long you’re doing the activity, so the phone will only reply "In a meeting" during the two hours that you set that you’re in a meeting. (Would be nice if this synced up with your Google Calendar too, to automatically know what you’re doing.) What’s also cool, is if someone calls you during this time, SMS Replier will auto-reply to that as well, saying you’ll call them back when you’re done. Other features: Up to 5 numbers that you can add to get incoming calls and texts. Say, for emergency calls. Or also set numbers that you don’t auto-reply to.

SMS Replier is available for Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, iPhone and Palm, which pretty much covers the primary mobile platforms (not Nokia, though: no Symbian). It costs $19.99.

Is it worth the money? Only you can judge that. Personally, I’ll just keep my phone switched off. A simple answer.

Related: It won’t be long before you can expect Twitter in your car – "CES 2010: Ford unveils Tweeting car" said the Telegraph’s story headline in January (you gotta love the mainstream media and attention-grabbing headlines):

Alan Mulally, Fordâ€s chief executive, said the company will produce a range of vehicles which can read motorist’s twitter messages to them as they drive down the street. Drivers may even be able to Tweet replies as the cars will feature voice recognition technology. But composing Tweets will not be possible on the first models, due out in the US later this year, because of safety fears.

US Road safety group the AAA warned that the new technology could put lives at risk. "The more things that are going on in a vehicle, the more things can distract a driver," a spokeswoman said. "You only have so much attention to give, and we really want everyone to keep their attention on the roadway for safety reasons."

However, Doug VanDagens, Ford’s global director of connected services, said people currently read Twitter feeds while they are driving anyway, and the new system would increase road safety by enabling motorists to keep both hands on the wheel. "We take what people do – they talk on the phone, they fumble with mp3 players, they look at maps. We take these activities and make them safer," he said.

I’m a tweeter (and a Ford owner) but the idea of my car talking my Twitter messages to me is absolutely not appealing at all. I pay most attention to the AAA’s comment: The more things that are going on in a vehicle, the more things can distract a driver.

See also these two Wikipedia entries:

  1. Mobile phones and driving safety
  2. Texting while driving

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