Apple patents technology to stop texting while driving - but 6 years on, it's still not live

News of patent filed in 2008 comes as Nottinghamshire Police launch crackdown against mobile phone use at wheel

by Simon_MacMichael   April 25, 2014  

Apple iPhone 5 (CC BY 2.0 licensed on Flickr by Yutaka Tsutano)

Apple has developed technology that would make it impossible to text and perform other distracting tasks on a smartphone while driving – but six years after filing a patent, the function has yet to be incorporated into its iPhone. The news comes as Nottinghamshire Police reveal that in the first fortnight of this month, officers stopped more than 1,000 motorists for illegally using a phone at the wheel or not wearing a seatbelt.

Apple's patent, for a "driver handheld computing device lock-out" system, which would block text messaging and other functions once it detected that a smartphone was using the device while the vehicle is in motion, was filed in 2008 but only came to light this week, reports Apple Insider.

It would work in one of two ways. The first, using features of the phone, including its accelerometer, camera, light sensors and GPS data, to analyse motion and scenery and, if it determined the user was driving, certain functions would be disabled.

It would be able to distinguish between whether a person was operating a moving vehicle, or walking, runnning, or using some other form of transportation other than a motor vehicle.

The second would see the car itself communicate with the phone through radio signals or RFID technology, blocking use from the driver’s seat once in motion.

According to Apple Insider, both systems would be able to distinguish between a device being used from the driver's seat, and one being used by a passenger.

Apple’s filing acknowledges that “As noted in the patent document, however, such a mechanism would be "a significant selling point in the eyes of concerned parents, and it could lead to legislation that would require all handheld computing devices to disable texting while driving."

The patent was filed the year after the Apple iPhone was launched, but the California-based company has not yet incorporated the technology into its iOS mobile operating system.

Instead, it has been developing its CarPlay system, which aims to make an iPhone the car’s entertainment and navigational hub.

Now that its ability to block certain features of the phone is public knowledge, however, Apple will come under pressure to introduce it from road safety organisations.

Paul Watters, head of motoring policy at the AA, told the Guardian: “As a market leader, Apple could have the power to change the culture behind texting and driving, if it works and is intuitive; that would be a very good step.

“What we find in our research is that there’s an addiction here, to texting and using smartphones, it’s an addiction that is very hard to break even when in the car — it will take some system to help people break that addiction.”

However, he cautioned: “Even if you cut off some functionality, it doesn’t necessarily remove the distraction the phone causes for drivers. There is no greater safety system than simply turning off the phone while driving.”

In 2012, research commissioned by IAM from the Transport Research Laboratory showed that texting at the wheel slowed driver reaction time by 38 per cent. The road safety charity said that using a smartphone at the wheel was more dangerous than driving while drunk or smoking cannabis.

Yet surveys regularly show a high proportion of motorists admitting to using their phones illegally while driving, which now carries a fine of £100 and three penalty points.

In one poll, from road safety charity Brake and the insurer Direct Line, three in ten drivers confessed to reading or sending text messages while driving, rising to four in ten 18-24-year-olds.

Meanwhile, Nottinghamshire Police launched a road safety campaign on 1 April that in its first two weeks resulted in more than 1,000 motorists being stopped for illegal phone use or not wearing a seatbelt.

No breakdown is available, but over the two months the campaign is due to run, police expect more drivers than the 5,000 caught last year to be stopped. Those found using phones are given the option of a fine and penalty points, or to attend a driver awareness course.

Chief Inspector Andy Charlton said: “Sadly this isn’t a surprise – despite similar campaigns in 2012 and 2013 - it shows a significant number of people still regard their addiction to their phone as more important than the safety of others and themselves.

He added: “It’s not too late to change your habits. Don’t get distracted by your phone and always wear your seatbelt.”

27 user comments

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Paul Watters seems a bit naive. Apple wouldn't be 'market leader' for long unless all phone manufacturers were forced to do the same.

Harsher penalties are the answer, (£500 + 6 points) combined with judges being less inclined to let people off. You need a car for work? Fine. Don't text while you drive and you won't lose your licence.

When you approach a roundabout and see a tipper lorry turning across you with the driver one-handed and no doubt talking to his missus about 'what's for tea?' then you know changes need to be made.

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1059 posts]
25th April 2014 - 8:18

25 Likes

Hmm, the second part sort of answers my question but what about other passengers using their phones, if the phone senses the vehicle is in motion will it then switch off ?

A good idea though.

‘It is useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing.’

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2757 posts]
25th April 2014 - 8:19

14 Likes

It is a good idea, though other phones have had technology to stop use while driving for a while, albeit using slightly simpler systems. The risk from mobile phone use and texting while driving continues.

One problem is that the penalties are so minimal. They should be on a par with those for drink driving, an automatic 12 month ban, only then will people start to take notice. The major reason we have had such an improvement in our road safety statistics over the last 30 years is that drink driving has become recognised for the anti-social behaviour that it is. This is why there are now 1/6th of the fatalities on UK roads from drink driving that there were when recording of this crime commenced in 1979.

We need to have the same rules for phone use while driving. Until then, people won't get the message.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2204 posts]
25th April 2014 - 9:19

25 Likes

It's simple. Get caught texting at the wheel, you lose your licence for five years, and your car is confiscated and sold or destroyed.

I guarantee that the problem would vanish within a year.

'It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning' (Henry Ford)

cyclingDMlondon's picture

posted by cyclingDMlondon [223 posts]
25th April 2014 - 9:31

22 Likes

stumps wrote:
Hmm, the second part sort of answers my question but what about other passengers using their phones, if the phone senses the vehicle is in motion will it then switch off ?

A good idea though.

Technology will once day allow us to install a directional 'sensor' on the dashboard, able to detect a phone call or text message made from the driver's seat, whilst the vehicle is in motion.

Once such a call is detected, the driver will have thirty days to explain his use of the telephone. If he cannot show that his life or the life of another person was in imminent danger, and that the call was absolutely necessary, then he will be jailed for one year, incur a lifetime ban, and be fined £10,000, as well as forfeiting his car.

One can but dream...

'It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning' (Henry Ford)

cyclingDMlondon's picture

posted by cyclingDMlondon [223 posts]
25th April 2014 - 9:36

16 Likes

The features this patent describes to block the *driver* from texting don't exist yet in cars, and would most likely be easily defeated if they did.

Let's face it, we have had the ability to easily and cheaply prevent drunks from driving for years, but these are not standard in any vehicle.

Excruciatingly tough penalties and strict enforcement are the only answers. Well, that and berating the shit out of anyone you know who does it.

I was told there would be Cake. Luckily there's http://TestValleyCC.org.uk

KiwiMike's picture

posted by KiwiMike [496 posts]
25th April 2014 - 9:54

18 Likes

1. the patent was filed because Apple is big/fashionable enough to ignore calls from customers and it allows other manufacturers to choose between blaming Apple that they can't implement automatic in-car locking or being on the receiving end of one of Apple's notorious phone patent lawsuits.

2. the patent is invalid because it's obvious, but it still enables both of the above.

posted by a.jumper [700 posts]
25th April 2014 - 9:56

9 Likes

Would it be possible in today's car electronic engines to screen out mobile phone signals with a jamming device? Just a thought.

antonio

antonio's picture

posted by antonio [956 posts]
25th April 2014 - 10:14

13 Likes

antonio wrote:
Would it be possible in today's car electronic engines to screen out mobile phone signals with a jamming device? Just a thought.

Yes, but for a large number of highly valid reasons, a bad idea.

I was told there would be Cake. Luckily there's http://TestValleyCC.org.uk

KiwiMike's picture

posted by KiwiMike [496 posts]
25th April 2014 - 10:26

15 Likes

I'm very much in favour of using technology to combat this problem, but it has to be able to accurately distinguish between driver and passenger, I mean what if you're on the bus? If it relies on wireless interaction with the car itself then most cars don't have that ability. Tougher enforcement is probably a better solution for the time being.

posted by drfabulous0 [342 posts]
25th April 2014 - 10:32

13 Likes

I would also like to see this implemented into sat-navs so that when the vehicle is in motion the screen goes blank (remember it's illegal to drive and look at an map/A2Z) and only the voice commands are issued.

If drivers want to change anything they will have to pull over and stop.

FATBEGGARONABIKE's picture

posted by FATBEGGARONABIKE [591 posts]
25th April 2014 - 10:52

13 Likes

Could it be that apple files hundreds of patents every year with the only intention being to stop their opponents using them without paying or getting the patent first?

posted by cub [62 posts]
25th April 2014 - 10:57

14 Likes

We need something like this but it's just financially sensible for the companies.
We are currently in the middle in the next battle, car companies and phone makers working together to harmonise the phone and car. Nuts, truly is but the car companies are only doing because they know the general public want it.
Surely this tech makes sense though. Block calls/texts and most apps but perhaps still allow phone to be used for traffic info/music and communicated via dashboard/speakers and nothing else.

posted by SB76 [80 posts]
25th April 2014 - 11:01

6 Likes

The points on a license given when texting should increase with speed, driving over 20? extra 3 points over 30? another 3 points etc.

Driving over 40mph and texting? Removal of license for such an insane risk to peoples lives.

All removals of license should be minimum 2 years.

posted by kie7077 [478 posts]
25th April 2014 - 11:09

20 Likes

We firstly need a cultural/social solution not technological. That begins with political will, and then extends to punitive fines backed by graphic media campaigns. Looking back, it's astonishing to think that drink-driving was once tolerated.

Texting at the wheel is a very tangible problem, but I think it's less of an issue than that of drivers speeding. Convincing society that a 20mph limit should be the norm in urban areas is far more challenging, but essential if we want to get more people using alternative transport options.

dafyddp's picture

posted by dafyddp [155 posts]
25th April 2014 - 12:34

12 Likes

I do wish this was enforced properly, but as with drink driving the biggest change will occur once it becomes socially unacceptable rather than just illegal. Part of that is education, from the grass roots up. It's surprising how much people react to the judgement of their friends, family and co-workers.

One practical example, if you phone someone who answers whilst driving (including hands free), do you trust them to decide it's safe to continue the call, or instead decide for them and call them back later?

If I'm ever asked why, I emphasise that I don't think it's "responsible" to use a phone whilst driving rather than unsafe. It seems to have more impact as people tend to hold their own views as to what is and isn't safe (something that's also very true of cycling!).

posted by bikebot [549 posts]
25th April 2014 - 12:53

16 Likes

Surely the simple suggestion is to make Bluetooth mandatory in all new cars sold as well as making Bluetooth mandatory for all company vehicles. Also im astonished that Apple havent been able to develop a simple system to read text messages out loud if a device is connected via bluetooth (I do not think carplay counts as you need a compatable stereo). People arent going to turn off their phones and I can imagine that this tech is clunky and wouldnt work properly so why not use the established technoligies to their full potential? Nothing winds me up more than seeing people driving whilst on their phone however there are some far easier solutions to the problem that arent specific to just one manufacturer.

posted by tomawest [10 posts]
25th April 2014 - 13:15

6 Likes

tomawest wrote:
Surely the simple suggestion is to make Bluetooth mandatory in all new cars sold as well as making Bluetooth mandatory for all company vehicles. Also im astonished that Apple havent been able to develop a simple system to read text messages out loud if a device is connected via bluetooth (I do not think carplay counts as you need a compatable stereo). People arent going to turn off their phones and I can imagine that this tech is clunky and wouldnt work properly so why not use the established technoligies to their full potential? Nothing winds me up more than seeing people driving whilst on their phone however there are some far easier solutions to the problem that arent specific to just one manufacturer.

No.

It's the attempt to concentrate on a phone call with a person who is not present that creates the danger. Encouraging more people to drive dangerously is definitely not the solution.

posted by kie7077 [478 posts]
25th April 2014 - 13:53

13 Likes

The iphone can or apps can translate texts and emails into text. Frankly, its not really an improvement. Same with bluetooth, still a massive distraction although at least it stops people holding their phones.
I have used bluetooth and faffing with the cars controls is as bad as a phone.

i dont use my phone at all in the car, i do think it's dangerous (not to say i havent used it in the past). In all honesty, their is an answer and that for cars to be made into faradays cages BUT that would stop passengers and alsort of other things as well. At the end of the day, it's us who need to drive forward any change, the car companies and phone companies wont and to be honest, why should they? They aren't our moral guardians so instead they will continue to push the boundaries of legality.
Angry

posted by SB76 [80 posts]
25th April 2014 - 14:43

8 Likes

we shouldn't need technology to stop, common sense should prevail, but alas, too many arseholes populate this planet. tougher penalties are the way, get the idiots off the road. use existing cctv to catch them, free up police from paperwork and get them on the roads.....staple convicted rapists to lamposts and get them to take photos of culprits passing by, whatever JFDI.

What about on board car entertainment. moden cars touch screens are just as dangerous, as are sat nav.......and i'm sure you get smokers who puff away, change radio and send a text at the same time.

'It's the closest you can get to flying'
Robin Williams response when asked why he enjoyed riding so much

posted by Simmo72 [312 posts]
25th April 2014 - 16:29

5 Likes

"using a phone at the wheel or not wearing a seatbelt."
Why are those two lumped together? Does 'not wearing a seatbelt' kill other people?

posted by arowland [84 posts]
25th April 2014 - 18:50

6 Likes

I ride in to Nottingham every day, and I had to ride past these guys every day over a two week period or so -- they were parked up in my cycle lane on Abbey Road bridge! Luckily, the other motorists were more than happy to slow down and give me lots of space as we went past the very obviously marked police cars Smile

The mobile phone thing is definitely a problem. As a cyclist riding through rush hour traffic, I do see at least a few people each day using their phone as they drive along. Usually you can spot them before you pull alongside, because they're always out of shape (in terms of position in the road, distance from the car in front or whatever). Also, if someone squeezes me in to a kerb or gets too close for comfort, I often look in and see that little glowing screen down in their lap. It definitely needs this kind of campaign to keep on chipping away, just like we did with drink driving in the 80s/90s.

[As an aside however, I do know one person who they stopped for not wearing a seatbelt (they had spotters further down the road), but the thing is, he was wearing it. It's now his word against theirs, which is a horrible position to be in. Not sure if they take photos or anything, but hopefully he'll be able to get this sorted]

posted by adrianoconnor [47 posts]
25th April 2014 - 21:51

10 Likes

arowland wrote:
"using a phone at the wheel or not wearing a seatbelt."
Why are those two lumped together? Does 'not wearing a seatbelt' kill other people?

Yes it does if they are sitting in front of you.

posted by drfabulous0 [342 posts]
26th April 2014 - 18:31

3 Likes

drfabulous0 wrote:
arowland wrote:
"using a phone at the wheel or not wearing a seatbelt."
Why are those two lumped together? Does 'not wearing a seatbelt' kill other people?

Yes it does if they are sitting in front of you.

How? Do you mean 'sitting behind you'? *

In any case it still doesn't kill other people outside the vehicle. If they are sitting in your car you presumably have some control over whether they wear a seatbelt or not, which is not what happens in the mobile phone case.

* edit, OK, I've figured out that 'they' in your comment means the 'other person'n not the non-seatbelt wearer. So scrub that bit. The second paragraph still holds though!

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [680 posts]
26th April 2014 - 20:08

4 Likes

True, but it's still irresponsible and illegal behaviour going on inside the vehicle, so I guess they were lumped together because the method of detection was the same, ie looking through the window. Why this can only take place as part of a "Road Safety Campaign" rather than everyday is beyond me.

posted by drfabulous0 [342 posts]
26th April 2014 - 20:33

6 Likes

Too late for this woman, luckily noone else was hurt.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/selfie-crash-death-woma...

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [816 posts]
27th April 2014 - 17:48

3 Likes

@FATBEGGARONABIKE - Errr, then what's the point of having a satnav if you can't look at it? Doh! Should it also be illegal to look at the speedometer while driving? Perhaps we should ban the use of the accelerator pedal too!

Andy

posted by jazzdude [60 posts]
27th April 2014 - 19:18

1 Like