RISK MANAGEMENT: Blocked call
17 March 2015
Driver Distraction Prevention from Romex is designed to block functionality on a phone when a car is in motion, keeping staff, the business and other road users safe, as Tom Seymour reports
Manufacturers are making decisions about partnering with smartphone brands for future product infotainment systems, and according to vehicle data provider Glass's that could be a main driver of vehicle choice in the next few years.
While some may roll their eyes at the idea of whether a car having an Apple or Android operating system being a deal-breaker for a new car purchase, phones have become a massive part of our lives and addictive for some.
Believe it or not, mobile phone use while driving has been banned since 2003, and yet the ever-expanding functionality of smartphones makes checking that little black mirror even more tempting.
Fleets' driver handbooks will have banned mobile phone use while on the road, and for some firms Bluetooth connection will not be permitted either. But how do you enforce something like that?
Anecdotally, driving on today's roads shows that most still blatantly ignore the ban, and while some might not bring the phone to their ear, they will be glancing down to check a text or tweet.
Romex has been working with fleets over the past few years to offer GPS-based technology that is downloadable to smartphones and which can block functionality on a phone as soon as the car is in motion. The technology, called Driver Distraction Prevention, picked up a BusinessCar Techies award in 2013 for Best Risk Management system.
"Driver distraction from smartphones is one of the biggest causes of incidents on the road," says Romex sales director Steve Arscott, who adds that while everyone knows they shouldn't look, it's difficult to resist.
"The temptation to look at your phone is immense. You can put a policy in place, offer training and best practice, but it's very difficult to enforce throughout an entire company.
"The scary thing is that when you look down at your phone at 50mph, you've already travelled the length of a football pitch in five seconds, it's extremely dangerous."
Arscott believes that while 20% of all incidents on the road in the UK are due to driver distraction, he believes the true figure is much higher because the authorities do not investigate whether a crash was due to mobile phone use unless it's a major incident.
What the system offers
Fleets using Romex's DDP subscription service can send a text download link to a driver's Android or Apple phone, or automatically send out a download to company Blackberry phones. Functionality for Windows 8 phones will goes live this month.
The system runs in the background and does not require a driver to activate it after it has been downloaded.
DDP functionality can be controlled by a fleet manager through an online portal. Companies that have sent out DDP to their workers' phones will block voice calls and messages, and lock the keypad.
Fleets that want a phone's Bluetooth hands-free- or satellite navigation-enabled, but everything else blocked, can do so at a cost.
However, the phone's functionality will still be blocked so drivers won't be able to change their destination on Google Maps, for instance, until the car is stopped. There is also a passenger mode for those drivers that are on a work trip but are not driving.
This unlocks access to the phone, but it sends an alert to managers to notify when it has been activated to clamp down on drivers trying to get around the block.
Emergency 999 calls are still possible, and employers are able to contact drivers to advise them to stop and pick up an urgent voicemail, so staff won't waste time travelling to meetings that have been cancelled.
Romex's software is preset with an employee's working hours, and any journeys within those hours are defaulted to work journeys and therefore bar phone activity, unless overridden by the employee. It clicks back into private mode when the person arrives home after work.
DDP tracks movement through the phone's GPS, and the phone will function again after the car is stationary for a time set by the fleet manager.
"Fleets ban mobile phone use but the majority don't have anything in place to enforce it. We are seeing an increase in the amount of fleets that are banning hands-free Bluetooth as well," says Arscott.
"From a risk management perspective, fleets that block mobile phone use are protecting their employees on the road, other road users and the company itself."
But does blocking employees have a negative impact on managers that are seen as spying or taking things too far?
Arscott believes the vast majority of employees welcome the fact their phone is disabled while driving because it removes the temptation.
He says the fact the system is on an employee's mobile phone system also means fleets can successfully enforce their mobile phone policy on any vehicle, whether it's a grey fleet vehicle or an employee moving to a replacement new car.
Romex has a team of 10 developers working on new functionality and is currently looking to launch a consumer app, having just focused on the B2B market until now.
Further growth with the corporate car sector is also expected this year, with more fleets looking to have an enforced mobile phone risk management policy.
Volvo has signed a deal with Romex, making the company behind the Driver Distraction Prevention technology one of its Co-pilot partners for fleet users.
The Co-pilot programme was developed in conjunction with Volvo's driver risk consultancy partner Fleet 21 and offers £495-worth of risk management consultancy and practical support free to any business buying or leasing its first Volvo. Fleets that buy a Volvo also gain access to offers from Co-Pilot partners.