Apple has patented a system that would provide a “lock-out mechanism” to stop drivers texting or using other distracting functions of their smartphones while on the move.
The patent describes how a device could determine if it was moving by looking at data from GPS, phone towers or even images from the camera. Visual clues would enable the device to calculate if its owner was driving the car or merely a passenger, imposing limits in the former case but not the latter.
Algorithms would look for a steering wheel in close proximity to the camera, or search for the number of faces – only one visible person would indicate that the user must be the one driving. It could also differentiate between the interior of a car and a train carriage or seat on a bus, where safety features would be unnecessary.
The application even suggests that the accelorometer could be used to detect when an unscrupulous driver was tilting the phone so as to not reveal the steering wheel and evade the safety feature. Sensing the speed of travel would also prevent the limits from kicking-in if the user was just walking.
Apple says in the patent application, filed in 2008 but only published and granted this week, that texting while driving has become a “major concern” of the police, and cites a 2006 study which found that 80pc of crashes were caused by distractions such as applying makeup, eating and text messaging.
The patent also claims that it is “doubtful” that police can stop people texting while driving because it can be done on the lap and is harder to spot.
Other studies have shown that sending text messages while driving was as dangerous as being a quarter over the legal drink-drive limit. The road safety charity Brake says that texting increases the chance of a commercial driver crashing by 23 times, and slows reaction times by 35 per cent.
The first part of Apple’s suggestion would use the phone’s own hardware to determine if it was travelling above a certain speed, and then lock the owner out of certain functions such as text messaging. It further develops the idea by suggesting that the car itself, or perhaps just the key, could be modified to send a signal to the phone to shut down certain features.
The application says that such a feature could 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.”
There are several Android apps which aim to perform a similar function, but Apple’s tight controls on what apps can and cannot access on the iPhone’s hardware have largely prevented similar software from launching on the iOS platform.
By Matthew Sparkes