How Smartphones Are Changing Road Safety


Mobile phones have the potential to take over nearly every part of our lives. The only area where the law is clear that phones have a very restricted use is while driving. Yet there is a strong argument that smartphone applications can also make driving much safer. In this post we look over the laws of using mobile devices while driving, and look at how smartphones are changing road safety. 

The Law

The UK law is very strict about using mobile devices when driving. Gov.uk set out in clear terms when it is illegal to use your phone. For your information we will go over them.

It is illegal to use a mobile device:

• While driving
• While waiting at traffic lights
• While queuing in traffic 
• While supervising a learner driver

The only way to interact with a phone is through hands-free access. This includes using a Bluetooth headset, voice command, or if your phone is in a dashboard holder (but you are not allowed to touch it). The only time you can physically interact with a phone is when you are safely parked. 

To ensure that you fall within the legal requirements of using the smartphone as a sat nav, the Bath Chronicle state that routes must be pre-programmed into the phone and not adjusted while driving. Any message that pops up while driving that can’t be deactivated or responded to via voice control cannot be interacted with. (Note - the Chronicle does state that if a sat nav message such as “faster route found” pops up with an Accept/Decline option you should be ok to press. Beware that you could still be pulled over for being distracted). 

How Smartphones Are Improving Road Safety

While using smartphones while driving is illegal and dangerous, the development of mobile technology is already improving road safety. For instance, Engadget list smartphone applications that will help drivers stay safe. One app the tech site recommends is Flo Driving Insights which delivers feedback on driving habits. These include noting when the driver took a corner too fast or went over the speed limit. Apps can also ensure that your car stays fully maintained and is safe to be on the road. Tech blog iGeeksBlog details several examples of the different type of apps available: from tracking fuel economy to reminding drivers when they should change their tyres. Smartphones can now keep a detail record of journeys that drivers can refer back to in order to adjust their driving or check on their car.

It is likely that journey tracking could become a legal requirement in the future. Already there is movement to implement this in commercial driving. In the US for example, Work Truck Online inform that a new law is being brought in (and will go into effect December 2017) that will mean commercial drivers will have to digitally log their journeys to ensure that they are traveling safely within the law. Already specialised ELD tracking apps have been developed with Fleetmatics creating a tracker that uses mobile technology that will send early alerts to drivers to prevent violations before they run out of hours. Currently the UK law doesn’t have plans to introduce this scheme into commercial driving, yet it is easy to see how smartphone tracking could be applied to both commercial and private vehicles to improve road safety.

It is important for learners to know the law when it comes to using phones. It is too easy to get caught in bad habits. If the learner has a smartphone, instructors should be able to point out how it can help improve their driving though installing road safety applications.


Written by Alize Cherry