Stowing mobile phones away while driving could save lives, experts say

Road safety advisors say drivers should pull to the side of the road or into a rest area to send texts and make phone calls in the car.

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ABU DHABI // While various devices exist to help prevent distracted driving, drivers should simply stow their phones so they are not tempted to use them, experts say.

“For me, there’s a relatively easy solution on my daily drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and back,” said Glenn Havinoviski, a transport expert.

“If I needed to get in touch with someone or check emails on a regular basis, I would typically make one stop along the road. There are several rest areas with petrol stations, restaurants and stores on the main routes. I’d stop for breakfast or coffee, and handle anything that was urgent.

“Of course, many people do not want to stop.”

A Virginia-based company developed OrigoSafe, an ignition interlock system that requires the driver to insert the smartphone prior to starting the vehicle. The user can still answer voice calls via Bluetooth but is unable to send text messages.

AegisMobility in Canada has developed a software product called FleetSafer, which employers install on employees’ mobile devices. The app communicates with a central server, that can either disable the phone directly or notify the company fleet manager using a computer in the vehicle.

An Ohio-based manufacturer launched its TextBuster device, which prevents the driver from accessing text, email or internet functions while driving. It does not block incoming or outgoing phone calls.

Dial2Do hands-free assistant, from Ireland, reads incoming emails and text messages out to the driver and allows the driver to respond by speaking.

“These products are helpful when there is someone who has some degree of control over the users, such as company vehicles and company smartphones, or families whose children are of driving age,” said Mr Havinoviski, associate vice president of transport at Iteris, a traffic management company.

“But they have little impact on all the other people who do not have those restrictions.”

More important than these devices, said Thomas Edelmann, founder of Road Safety UAE, was to build a traffic safety culture.

“We can all put our phones on silent mode and stow them away instead of depending on them,” he said.

Students who attend theory classes at Emirates Driving Company are told of the risks associated with the use of mobile phones while driving, said its chief executive, Khaled Al Mansoori.

“To prevent road accidents, drivers should park safely instead of answering their phones or texting while driving,” he said.

Mr Havinoviski said: “So many people text each other continuously and, given the distances people drive, especially on the Dubai-Abu Dhabi route, a lot of people may somehow feel they’re out of touch if not talking or texting.

“From a business perspective, many people may feel they can’t afford to not be using their phone. And with the extended families that are a major part of UAE life, there is always communication going on.”

Effective enforcement of traffic rules was key to changing behavior, Mr Edelmann said, and Mr Havinoviski agreed.

“If you really want to deal with this issue, simply trying to enforce a texting-while-driving ban is difficult until a collision occurs and there is evidence that one of the drivers was texting while driving,” he said.

Last year more than 30,000 tickets were issued in Abu Dhabi to drivers for using a mobile phone while driving, compared with 8,000 in 2008, Capt Abdullah Al Ghafli, a road and traffic engineer at Abu Dhabi Police, told a conference in November.