Could car mode be a solution to texting while driving danger?

20 Feb 2016

Could a car mode on smartphones reduce the chances of people texting while driving?

Despite it being stupid and dangerous, a startling number of people continue to use their mobile phone while driving.

The constant temptation of responding to notifications, checking on emails and texts, and general FOMO mean that the desire to “just have a quick look” at their smartphones can be overwhelming for people, leading to texting while driving and other dangerous activities.

Thus, mobile phone use while driving has the dubious honour of being a much greater contributor to accidents and fatalities than alcohol consumption and over-tiredness, at least in the US. According to The Washington Post, mobile phone use plays some role in a quarter of all road traffic accidents in the US. There is no safe way to use the phone. Texting is the worst culprit (making a crash 23 times more likely), however, dialing increases risk by 2.8 times, talking or listening by 1.3 times and even just reaching for the device by 1.4 times.

So, that’s all the bad news.

However, there is good news, which is that I believe sound experience design principles offer a potential solution.

The solution is predicated on the hypothesis that humans are weak and, thus, that avoiding the temptation is more effective than resisting the temptation.

I would like to make the case for car mode.

Car mode for smartphones – why not?

We are used to airplane mode, so why not car mode? Its operation would be really straightforward. When the phone owner is starting a journey, they put the phone into car mode, and instruct the phone not to come out of car mode until the phone is in a certain location or in the same location for a certain period of time. During the period of car mode, the phone has heavily restricted functionality.

This could take the form of accepting inbound calls only (if connected to an in-car Bluetooth system). Or perhaps all manner of inbound communications and notifications are switched off. Or perhaps the phone is locked and cannot be unlocked or used in any way for the duration of the journey.

With no notifications, and nothing new to see, and potentially without the ability to even use the phone, the driver would be free to concentrate on driving. Car mode would remove the temptation to pick up the phone by making it virtually useless.

Car mode could even automatically turn itself on, or at least proactively ask the user if they wish to turn it on. Every morning as I leave my driveway, my iPhone tells me how long it will take me to get to the office and what traffic is like. And every evening on my way back home, it does the same in reverse. If my iPhone can learn my travel patterns to let me know about traffic, there is no reason why it shouldn’t also be able to discern travel patterns and activate car mode accordingly.

So, I’d like to make the case for car mode, and believe it would contribute significantly to reducing the appalling carnage on our roads resulting from the inappropriate use of mobile phones.

Speaking of unnecessary carnage, it would also be great if Apple could add a feature onto their iPhones that stops teenage daughters taking 20 selfies every time one leaves one’s phone unattended, but that an article for another day.

Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy which helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include UX strategy, usability testing and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Three, Ordnance Survey Ireland, PSNI, Permanent TSB and Tesco Mobile. Visit Fathom online at

Woman texting while driving image via Shutterstock