On how the Dutch government tries to dissuade stubborn smartphone users to text and drive.

While biking in Amsterdam, you probably notice a lot of drivers using their phone. A current survey among Dutch people concluded that one out of eight drivers use WhatsApp while driving. This behavior is proven to be a big problem since it increases the probability of accidents by 6.1 times. The government, Safe Traffic The Netherlands, as well as insurance companies are eager to find a solution.

Nowadays, drivers can choose from a wide range of options to reduce the distractive power of smartphones. The easiest way to do so is to turn on flight mode. Unfortunately, flight mode also disables navigation. Moreover, Apple and Google have installed functions on their new phones for driving. This software is designed to block the phone when a certain speed is reached. Recently, insurance companies started releasing apps to discourage texting and driving. Interpolis developed an app called ‘AutoModus‘ (translation: ‘CarMode‘), which blocks notifications but allows drivers to continue calling and navigating.

Does it work?
The question arises whether these apps really work. The biggest obstacle is that these apps are not compulsory and need to be activated by the driver. Many people possess the stubborn habit of regularly checking their phone and continue this behavior whilst driving. Although this habit is dangerous, there is no motivation to change. Which means the app will simply not be activated and the habit remains. In line with this way of thinking the only solution would be to make it physically impossible to text and drive. Looking at the current political climate, this is not going to happen any time soon.

On the other hand, the app AutoModus by Interpolis has already been downloaded 85.000 times and the app is used regularly. The most important aspect of this app is the blocking of notifications, because these make for the greatest distractions. Drivers are especially likely to use their phone when they receive a notification. In our current society, instant gratification is a major behavioral motivator. That is why we are inclined to read what we receive and respond as soon as possible. Thus, apps that block notifications are effective in reducing texting and driving under the condition that they are activated.

Change on the horizon?
For the anti-texting apps to be activated and subsequently effective it’s crucial that drivers are highly motivated to change. This can only be achieved through a change in social norms. Texting and driving should be perceived as the dangerous behavior it is. Luckily, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment is campaigning ‘Onderweg ben ik offline‘ (translation: ‘On the road, I am offline’), which is aimed at changing the attitude of drivers towards texting and driving.

I don’t know about you, but I am not paying anyone to disable my phone

Although the war against texting and driving is far from over, the war against texting and cycling is just beginning. At the end of 2017, mobile provider KPN and Safe Traffic The Netherlands are planning to release a special bike lock to prevent people from texting and cycling. These special locks can only be unlocked through Safe Lock app. Once the bike is unlocked, the Safe Lock app disables all functions of the smartphone expect for calling the emergency number 112. The effectiveness of this app is even more doubtful than the car apps, especially since this bike lock will costs about one hundred Euros. And I don’t know about you, but I am not paying anyone to disable my phone.

Cover: Amanda Mills

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