Mobile apps and car safety

On July 22, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 4.21.21 PMThe smartphone culture has exploded into life in the last five years and hundreds of millions of people around the world use theirs on a daily basis. From taking pictures, listening to music and surfing the web to making the less exciting but originally intended phone calls, smart phones are part of everyday life for many people.

Hundreds of millions of people also drive. With a staggering 60% of teens said to text whilst behind the wheel, this modern distraction comes with life threatening risks. A relatively new concept, the introduction of the mobile app has seen some ingenious uses for the smart phone and the motoring sector is no exception. App inventors are now looking at how mobile technology can enhance traffic safety in their own ways. A few examples include:

Best Car Apps

SafeCar for iPhone: gives advice based on their car model ranging from recalls and complaints to how to install child seats

– Sprint’s Drive First for Android: Disables some of the phone’s functionality when it detects a driving scenario, such as redirecting calls to voice mail.

– Other American carriers AT&T and T-Mobile also have their own safe driving apps in the market, the former releasing DriveMode and DriveSmart coming from T-Mobile. Both of these are fairly similar to Sprint’s offering, allowing the phone to automatically respond to any calls and texts with a “reply later” message.

Police App: A vast number of police organizations have mobile apps to share information with local citizens. Many of these display the message ‘do not use when driving.’

– GPS – eliminating the need for an old school SatNav, helping stranded motorists everywhere. The challenge is to enable the driver to use a GPS app without being distracted.

– Ford is currently working on a healthcare app that would fully integrate in their infotainment system. This app would warn the driver of possible health issues, for example lowered blood sugar levels in diabetes patients, before the driver becomes dizzy or develops other dangerous symptoms.

A browse through the recent Definitive Automotive Apps collection posted by blog shows that the car app market is a very lucrative business to be in.

An ever growing market, there is always room for new ideas to take off around the globe and apps which warn of potential hazards, congestion or accidents are undoubtedly going to be popular with motorists. In March 2013, Japanese manufacturing giants Honda road tested a new smart phone app which, they claim, was able to delay the formation of traffic jams by as much as 6 minutes and improve fuel efficiency up to 22%.

It works by monitoring the speed of the vehicle and the driving style of the motorist, instructing the user on when to speed up or when to slow down. This helps avoid drastic acceleration or braking, thus cutting the number of collisions.

Car Makers Caring for your Health

Ford is working on a more health-conscious system which could potentially warn diabetic drivers of low blood-sugar levels before it has a chance to get dangerous. They’re also working with companies such as WellDoc on mobile apps which could direct drivers with severe allergies on routes away from areas with high pollen levels.

The question must be asked of how much technology should be integrated with the automotive world. Honda’s latest experiment should work well enough in theory, but reaction times at the end of the day are down to the driver. Modern vehicles are already littered with technological wonders that react to changing air temperature or practically drive the car for you.

But, following the introduction of an almost decade-old law making it illegal to use a hand held phone whilst driving, is it not better that the two are kept as separate as possible?

Drivers using hand held devices are four times more likely to cause serious accidents. Even if the safety nets are in place to stop drivers making full use of the phone, the cellular temptress still exists. Your hands-free set may very well leave your hands to operate the wheel, but your mind is still elsewhere if you have fabulous smart phone apps to play with.

Don’t Text and Drive

We constantly speak about dangers of texting and driving or talking and driving, but has anyone tried to find out how many people get distracted by using maps or parking-finder apps on their mobiles? The main mobile phone manufacturers are doing their best to prevent people from using their handhelds while driving. For example, the native GPS app on Blackberry Q10 and Z10 won’t work unless you confirm that your car is stationary and that it is safe to use the app.

Unfortunately, the problem could be exacerbated by automakers’ decisions to make their infotainment systems closer to a tablet or smartphone interface, incorporating touch-based functionality and doing away with the traditional physically adjustable buttons, knobs and dials. This is forcing the driver to look away from the road to change radio stations, or to adjust the air conditioning. With the more traditional designs, it was easy to grope your way to a radio preset, or a heating control without having to look down. This issue is made even worse with the addition of apps available directly to the in-car system, causing a distracting and unsafe environment for drivers.

One obvious solution to the problem would be totally disabling all controls when the vehicle is moving, allowing only voice commands. This is something that many car manufacturers, including Ford and Subaru, have already introduced in their production cars.

There is no doubt that the app universe is going to continue to expand alongside the growing technological feat that is the modern car. But the proposed apps come could come with niggling doubts as to whether their use justifies potential risk of distraction and only time will tell whether or not something surfaces that truly merges the two together.