S is for Safety (or: about Apps during Traffic)


Mobile platforms need to deliver options for developers and end users so they can only use their smart devices only when not driving a vehicle.

Also, don’t be a douchebag that fiddles on his/her phone behind the steering wheel and pay attention to the road while driving.

The full story


While I was commuting from my job at Proteges.eu back home I noticed how many people are fiddling with their phones while they were behind the steering wheel.

Although I am guilty too (sometimes I press play to get some Spotify tunes or get my Podcast selection going, or give a situation status update on Waze) I couldn’t believe how many people were busy on the smart screen during the 37 kilometers / 30-minute drive!

Who is responsible?

The ever-increasing mobile usage and our addicted behavior makes it hard for us to leave that device alone. Even in a situation that really needs our attention, like driving in traffic. We’re almost getting hardwired to use our smart devices all the time and respond to all the social pulses that it brings along.

As long as self driving vehicles aren’t legal and mainstream, people just need to take good care while driving in traffic themselves. Perhaps in a year or five you can sit back and relax while your car drives you to work. I’d really love that as it makes the time that commuting to/from work takes more useful. Until then, I’ll just listen to podcasts and make an (occasional) phone call.

Don’t get me wrong. I get the need to be “on” most of the time. But it IS good to have your smart device in a passive mode from time to time so you can respond to your immediate surroundings and focus on what’s going on around you. If you don’t… well.. this could be you someday:

A lot of media attention is has been going towards preventing kids (and adults) from getting addicted to smartphones. Which leads me to the following question:

Who should make traffic app-safe?

“The companies that provide those addictive apps should take care of that” is a reaction I sometimes hear. Others are saying that the “Apples and Googles” of the World need to handle this.

I tend to agree with the latter group of people more, although the final responsibility is and always will be with the actual end users of a smartphone and its apps.
As it appears, even the Feds seemed to agree on that.

Smartphones only have a right to exist because of the software that is on it

If you think of it, smartphones only have a right to exist because of the software that is on it. That is the OS to begin with, enabling the hardware to be put to good use.

The fire that burns in the mobile ecosystem

A mobile OS can only thrive and be successful when there are lots of apps and possibilities that are being provided to the users. Windows Phone (RIP) is good proof of this, as it died in 2017 because of the limited supply of quality apps.

Let app makes take care of app usage in traffic

Let’s think of the scenario where mobile app developers and companies need to take care of checking if you’re active in traffic or not. This would mean that they need to use your phone’s GPS/Motion/Geolocation capabilities. You would need to give permissions for an app to let it use those features which on its turn would make eyebrows raise:

“Why the h*ll does this note taking app need my location info?!” would be an example question. People give permissions all the time but when a permission is not in line with the expectation of an app, it makes people hesitate and mistrust an app. Eventually leading to people stopping to use apps more and more and thus extinguishing the app ecosystem fire that gives smartphones a right to exist.

Another issue would be the power drainage. With some good effort, you can squeeze in a working day of good use on your smartphone with the various apps that make up your toolset. But watching the devices’ movements to see if you’re participating in traffic would mean that the same battery would take a hard hit in order to stop your car from hitting a wall, or worse, other traffic participants.

The OS manufacturer would be a safer bet

When you’d let iOS and Android figure out what the context of your app usage is, that would lead to smarter solutions, let more app developers participate in implementing safe applications and the phone wouldn’t die out as fast.

Whatever SDK’s Android or iOS develop, when they’re available at the OS level chances are that more developers will utilize them more quickly.

When the OS takes care of the logic to understand what you’re doing and if (and how) you should use apps at that moment, you could literally create lifesaving measurements for everyone to enjoy. For instance:

  • Let users and the OS define “safe havens” for mobile usage like your home & work locations
  • Let the OS figure out that you’ve entered your car because that Bluetooth connection is available and you’re not at a safe haven
  • Only allow voice control actions when the OS detects you are driving

Taking things further

As long as cars aren’t going to drive FOR you, we could go a step further and let cars that support Apple’s Carplay or Android Auto implement sensors that can act as a “second pair of eyes”.

This would enable your smart-devices to interact with the vehicle’s OS in a more connected way and make the car indicate if it’s driving and if it’s safe to activate the touchscreen of your device or only allow voice commands.

Until cars will drive by themselves, I wish you happy — and most of all SAFE — driving. The safe part is on you for now, since your attention is needed on the road while driving.

So don’t be a douchebag that fiddles on his/her phone behind the steering wheel and pays attention to the road while driving.