Apps to block calls while driving

6 June 2012
, CarsGuide
Apps to block calls while driving
Hands-free is just as dangerous as hand-held.

Apps that disable phone calls and read out texts, tweets and emails when you are driving are coming to Australia. However, road safety expert Professor Simon Washington says they may be just as dangerous as using a hand-held mobile phone while driving.

"I have not seen a product in Australia yet that has come out to successfully monitor phone use while driving, but some are coming fairly soon," the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety - Queensland (CARRS-Q) researcher says.

"They generally work on a similar principle of blocking phone calls by using the GPS to detect movement. However, that would prevent you using the phone when you are a passenger.

"There are more innovative products that read emails and text messages, but I'm not sure it's any safer as you are still diverting attention from the driving task.

"Evidence doesn't bear that out that it would be a risk-reducing device."

Prof Washington says the US federal government has banned all use of mobile phones by employees while using fleet vehicles and some US companies have followed suit. As far back as 2002, Shell instituted a ban on hand-held phone use and extended that to include hands-free devices in 2005, resulting in a 57 per cent reduction in crashes.

Phone apps allow companies and government administrators to monitor whether their employees are using phones while driving and impose fines. However, Prof Washington does not believe any Australian government or company is considering a similar ban or monitoring policy. He says "hands-free is just as dangerous as hand-held" but thinks banning all phone use while driving would be too difficult to enforce.

"The police say it's too difficult to detect now and that they only pick up a very small percentage of offenders," he says.

"Drivers are generally aware if there is a law enforcement officer around."

He says the answer to dangerous distracted driving behaviour such as texting while driving is not legislation or technology, but education.

"Young drivers are the particular offenders because the proportion using these devices is really large so we need to capture that market at the learn-to-drive stage,' he says.

"If we can develop behaviour in that age group they won't do it when they are older."


SafeCell: Uses the phone's GPS to detect movement at speeds above 16km/h and disables phone calls, texts, and web access. (Not yet available in Australia)

PhoneGuard: Similar app, but also can be monitored by an administrator who can set the speed threshold at which phones freeze; set times of the day when phones are disabled such as school hours; set exceptions for users who request them; and receive notices about text, phone, and web usage on all devices on the network. (Not yet available in Australia) Reads texts, Twitter updates and emails aloud. It cannot be used to reply while driving, but can send an automatic pre-recorded response such as "I'm currently driving and cannot answer your call", similar to automated email replies. (In Australia it only works with emails, not yet with SMS.)