U.S. Safety Regulators Propose ‘Driver Mode’ For Smartphones

According to suggestions put forth by the United States Department of Transportation on Wednesday, smartphones like Apple’s iPhone or Samsung’s Galaxy devices should be able to detect when they’re being used by a vehicle’s driver and limit functionality.

apple on road

The recommendation, suggested by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would render a driver’s mobile phone unable to perform a large majority of its functions under a “driver mode” – a restricted access setting which would only permit the use of GPS and music applications.

The intention is to reduce the increasing toll of road deaths and injuries accountable to smartphone-based distractions such as social media, texting, and of incoming calls. The restrictions would not apply to the phones of passengers in the car, but only the driver, according to a report by the New York Times.

“As millions of Americans take to the roads for Thanksgiving gatherings, far too many are put at risk by drivers who are distracted by their cellphones,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox commented regarding the initiative. “These commonsense guidelines, grounded in the best research available, will help designers of mobile devices build products that cut down on distraction on the road.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn’t have the power to enforce specific rules but it does put out guidelines, which are generally followed. And many of the items it’s suggesting, are already in place.

For example, iPhones can connect to a car’s information/entertainment system through CarPlay, while both Android and Windows phones have a driving mode option designed for a cleaner, distraction-free interface.

Still, disabling functions based on usage is a very delicate and complicated problem. How can the phone recognize it’s being used by the driver and not by a passenger? Likewise, how can a car’s infotainment system limit usage on the driver’s smartphone alone, without affecting other devices?

There is still much to learn about this “driver mode” initiative and whether it will indeed be implemented in the future.

In Canada, distracted driving is a huge problem and provinces have implemented stiff fines to address the problem, but more awareness campaigns and education on the matter is needed.