On the phone while driving? This research may put an end to that

by: Jonathan FeistAugust 17, 2014

Android Auto

Many localities have enacted distracted driving laws, requiring drivers to maintain a hands-off approach to technology while on the go. While this is generally a very good thing, it has not been easy to enforce. Sure, there are stiff fines and other undesirable punishments, but only if you get caught. What if your car and phone could talk and could lock you out of your phone while you are driving?

A team at the Brazilian Santa Catarina State University are reportedly working on a system, while not as intrusive as I described, that will simply combine hardware and software to identify when you are using your phone in the car. It won’t lock you out of your phone. Yet.

The system works by placing a tiny camera in your dashboard that is focused on your face. Using pattern recognition algorithms, the camera can detect when you bring your hand up to your head, as if holding a cell phone.

Driving on the phone detection

There are certainly many other techniques that could have been used here, but this one appears to be self contained within the automobile, not requiring anything of the phone for this to work. On the flip side, the tech is currently defeated by simply wearing gloves, or hiding hands in long hair, meaning it could be a while before it is polished for real world applications.

While this sets the stage for actions to prevent the driver from, or penalize them for, talking and driving, nothing has been enacted just yet.

It will certainly be interesting to see where they go with this, and, more importantly, if any government or automotive manufacturer pick up the tech and start placing it in cars. While I am ultimately against forcing individuals to do the responsible thing, I can see how this could become an excellent tool to be used in the same way as a breathalyzer ignition lock – helping parents protect their under aged drivers and as mandated by law enforcement for a proven offender.

Distracted Driving grand-theft-auto-san-andreas-android-1

The MIT Technology Review has more information on this research, head on over to their site to see the details. In the end, MIT suggests that, since the tech is so easily defeated, the approach should still be to educate drivers, or otherwise convince them that using a handset while driving is inherently very dangerous. Pull it over or call back later.

What do you think, should your car have the ability to prevent you from using your phone behind the wheel?

  • Tony

    Can’t see the manufacturers going for it.. Theory won’t even ship accident cameras as standard so something that records the driver constantly (and is going to be unpopular due to that) is way down the list.

    It”s also easily defeated by a piece of tape or lump of chewing gum.

    • DW

      just said that myself about the tape to cover the camera.

      • jaketyler

        pretty sure the camera would detect its being covered and then the car not allowed to start until its uncovered. dumbass

        • DW

          so the car wouldn’t drive at night? That’d be fun.

  • DW

    Or, in case this gets implemented, you can just tape the camera and no more detection. This has to be one of the most flawed approaches I’ve seen.

    • MasterMuffin

      Turn NFC/Bluetooth/whatever off and the thing won’t know your device is there :)

      • DW

        it would have to be something built-in the phone that one couldn’t disable :p

    • Tora

      That would only be specific to Smart phones, remember this has to be universal.

    • Stellar

      The best solution is to make cars that act as a complete Faraday Cage. Then we all be happy. No signals in and out, no lightning bolt, no EMP.

      • FonyACKt

        Because my navigator should be blocked from receiving GPS signals as well? Or all Coms?

        “The best solution” just remove the tires and gas tank from the vehicle and stop all traffic accidents always!

    • WestIndiesKING

      better yet how about stop wasting time on stupid nanny things like this and make things that can actually do more good than this. Sure so many accidents are caused by people on their phone while driving but we cant protect everyone from everything. Lets improve the car displays and make our phones better hands free devices which would eliminate the need for stuff like this in the first place.

      • DW

        agreed tbh, it was just something from the top of my head as a better approach than the one used, since the cars now bug you to death if you don’t wear seatbelts, this would be similar. However IMHO they’d be better off researching things that really matter.

  • Who cares about this stuff, soon people will find a way to manipulate it . The best thing is to ” ban mobile phone”. So those researches can take a break

  • Iheartmyed9

    Why not use GPS technology? If the phone detects it’s been moving at a higher rate of speed than a human can walk it will lock the phone for 5 minutes or so until the speed is concurrent with a nornal humans rate of speed, a much better approach.

    • NaS

      Not good. What when i am in the bus or a train? Id like to use my phne then.

      • NaS


        • jaketyler

          and even as a passenger in a car

    • Maurizio

      you use your phone with your car’s infotainment system, this is not about not using phones at all.

  • sabra

    LOL, what if I will be scratching my head in this exact pattern? :-D

  • Tomislav Nagode

    What is a picture of Gta San Andreas doing in this article xD

    • AndroidGamer

      CJ is on his phone and driving away from a big mess on the road. I get it.

  • Maurizio

    the problem nowadays is not calls, everyone uses car’s infotainment system now, the problem is people writing in whatsapp all the time

  • Ws6viv

    This is getting to crazy, first seat belts, the government had too MUCH CONTROL !!

  • Michael

    They are wasting money on this “research”. Most newer cars have bluetooth enabled stereo system so talking ain’t or shouldn’t be a problem.

    • tora

      Everything isn’t a smartphone, flip phones (to my knowledge) don’t have bluetooth.

      • DW

        bluetooth’s been around way before smartphones

  • Paul Allen

    The tech industry has already done a heck of a lot to address this problem. Maybe we can do more to raise awareness to the dangers and consequences but aside from that, I don’t know. I think if messing with a phone is truly as dangerous as drinking and driving, maybe the penalties should be the same (i.e. suspended license, insurance rate hike, jail time). To be honest, maybe the penalties should be even stiffer, since at least the drunk driver has the excuse that he/she just consumed a substance known to impair one’s ability to make good judgements/decisions.

  • andrew

    We should also not be allowed to turn our music higher than a certain volume because its distractive. We should also have a detection system for when pssenegers are talking too much that’s also too distractive. You know what? We shouldn’t even have radios at all. Screw cars. Humans can’t handle cars.

  • andrew

    What happened to the normal days when you would get in trouble for crashing and that alone was wrong? What if I was eating a hamburger? Is that going to make it less severe than if I was on a phone? A crash is a crash and a phone is not a substance I don’t see how people compare it to drinking and driving

  • Major_Pita

    If you’re going to use technology to make up for human stupidity don’t even bother with this kind of thing. Cars can already park themselves and some luxury makes have crude accident avoidance systems. Simply improve these to feature automatic lane deviation detection/correction and automatic minimum distance interval from vehicles in front. Make these able to take over control from the driver to maintain set parameters. Not a big leap from current consumer technology. Coupled with cruise control you would have a car that could drive itself on long boring interstate trips. For added safety add a driver query function to forces the driver to perform an action verbally or press a button to prove they’re still conscious. This would end all kinds of stupidity and even cover issues like a medical crisis – i.e. heat attack, or some other incapacitating event. If a driver fails to respond to certain criteria the car slows and pulls over while calling 911. Done in volume this could be added to mid-range priced cars for not much more than a rear camera + navigation package. Of course this would be OEM/new cars only but same is true for the device in the article.

  • Sal

    We don’t need this. If you have to be dumb enough to think that you can be on your phone and NOT cause an accident then I have no sympathy for you.

    • Mark Mann

      It’s not the person that would be dumb enough to be in their phone behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, it’s the victims of their stupidity… I’m married to someone that was such a victim

  • Paul

    I think everyone is missing the point somewhat.

    If drivers are distracted by using the phone while driving and the drive into a brick wall or off a cliff, then it’s their problem. If a passenger in that same car is not stopping the driver from using their phone while driving and the driver drives into a brick wall or off a cliff, then it’s the passengers problem as well as the drivers. Then problem is when it becomes the problem of someone else. When the drive across a busy intersection, serve to miss something and plough into someones living room, cause a school bus driver to serve and injure the kids inside, drive through a crossing, that has people using it and injuring or killing people, etc.

    Something should be included at the time of manufacture of both the phone and vehicle that prevents the DRIVER from using the phone. Present technologies are rendered useless to easily.

    As a aside, apparently the Police in Australia can use their mobiles because they have had SPECIAL training. Maybe we could all get this sort of training so we know how to use or mobiles while driving.

  • DirtyFred

    While your phone is near your ear you can sill watch the road.The accident comes up while texting, watching news feed on some sotial media apps , changing music and so on.This built in camera will not really reduce the number of accidents.