Apple Patent Could Disable Texting While Driving

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Apple wants to make driving safer by removing the temptation to text while at the wheel

Apple’s expansion into the auto industry might not just be limited to in-car entertainment systems as the company has filed a parent for a “Driver handheld computing device lockout” that would disable the ability of a smartphone to receive texts if its user is operating a vehicle.

In a filing with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Apple says texting while driving has become a major concern for road safety and is the number one distraction for teenage drivers. It adds that teens are not dissuaded by legislation and can circumvent law enforcements by placing their phones on their laps.

“Texting while driving has become so widespread it is doubtful that law enforcement will have any significant effect on stopping the practice,” says the company, adding that a text-disabling feature would be a major selling point for concerned parents.

Don’t drive and text

Apple driving patentApple describes two methods of implementing such a feature – one with modification to the vehicle and another without.

A smartphone alone would be able to detect whether a user is driving by a motion analyser powered by data collected by the device’s GPS, accelerometer, light sensor or cellular telephone data and disable some functions, such as texts or calls if a threshold is exceeded.

If the vehicle is modified, a radio signal could be emitted either from the vehicle or itself, or from the car keys, which could be paired with an individual device.

The most obvious flaw to either of these systems is that passengers in the car would also be prevented from using their phone. To combat this, Apple proposes a scenery analyser which would require non-drivers to pan their camera around the vehicle to prove they are not driving. This would hardly be an elegant solution.

An American problem?

It’s also possible that the issue of texting while driving affects the US more than the UK. The use of a mobile phone while driving in the UK is illegal, but such legislation in the US varies from state to state. Some have issued outright bans, while others have imposed restrictions only on new drivers and some have no laws at all, leading some cities to outlaw the practice themselves.

US users are far more likely to use their handsets while in control of a vehicle than their European counterparts,  despite the fact that research has shown the practice is more dangerous than drink driving.

It is unclear whether the system would be limited to Apple products or capable of controlling devices made by other manufacturers or even Google Glass, the use of which while driving is a contentious issue.

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