Dear Sir,

Yes, it is Road Safety Week again. I have a useful solution that may change driver behaviour in regards to their speeding and use of mobile phones while operating a vehicle.

Your mobile phone always knows where it is in geographic space and can easily estimate its speed. Remember: Velocity = Distance/Time.

I propose the creation of a mobile phone app that keeps track of your speed, calculates the amount of time you have exceeded some speed threshold and then disables your phone for a calculated period of time after you return to normal walking speed; ie, after your trip is finished and you have parked your vehicle.

So, imagine that you exceeded 50km/h for two minutes in total over a 15-minute ride, when you go to check your phone after parking your bike or car, the screen says “You exceeded the speed threshold at 50km/h for two minutes and your penalty is 30 minutes of inactive phone function – no calls, no data use, you can use your preprogrammed emergency number and call 911.”

I have done a lot thinking about this idea and discussed it with friends and colleagues. There are some merits in using this app as an educational tool that will change behaviour, reduce speeding and mobile phone use while the driver is operating a vehicle. I suggest the app be called Time-out!

I think 50km/h is a good threshold, as I find that most people, including myself, drive between 40km/h and 50km/h, and this is a reasonable speed for our roads under most conditions. But it is still significantly over our unenforced speed limit of 35km/h. We are all guilty of exceeding 50km/h, as it is sometimes necessary to overtake someone. But I find I can usually overtake the slower vehicle in eight to 12 seconds at 50km/h and then return to a steady 40km/h to 45km/h pace. As long as I don’t do this frequently, I won’t incur any penalty.

I will suggest that the first minute of accumulated speed above 50km/h can be excused with a warning screen that informs you of your infraction. As I do not regularly exceed 50km/h on most of my journeys, I would not incur the loss of phone function. But the app would tell me how much time I exceeded the 50km/h threshold.

Here is the best part of my app: the day is not over, the next time you get back on the bike or in your car and accumulate more time over 50km/h, then that time is added to your initial total. Eventually, you are going to hit a threshold of time that causes the app to disable your phone. One could design the app just to add up the total time over a 12-hour or 24-hour period. So you might incur some short periods of loss of mobile phone function in the morning on the way to work, but if you plan on speeding home later in the day the penalties will be cumulative and you will lose more phone time.

Here is a table of possible accumulated time in minutes and seconds at speeds over 50km/h, 60km/h and 70km/h, and corresponding time penalties:

The point here is that the penalties are higher for more persistent speeding over time. The higher the speed, the greater the penalty – anything in excess of 60km/h is going to disable your phone for several hours. Pretty inconvenient, right?

The principal goals here are to get drivers to recognise how much time they actually speed and to get them to slow down. Excessive speeders don’t get any slack!

Also, while the phone is travelling over a 35km/h speed threshold, it cannot be used. If the phone is plugged in for hands-free operation or operating via Bluetooth, then the app allows normal function, except over 50km/h. This applies to passengers using their phones, too – and they will be reminding the driver to slow down! The main benefit is to keep drivers from using their phones while driving their vehicles – no texting and driving, please!

How can this idea work its way into use and begin to effect changes in driver behaviour?

I think our local insurers and the Bermuda Road Safety Council should put up a prize for the design of a successful app, perhaps $30,000. We pay a lot more each year to repair damaged and destroyed vehicles, and the costs are passed on to us in our insurance premiums. I have no skills to code an app, but we do have some local talent that can probably accomplish the task. Maybe they get a small payment for each new app installation after the initial roll-out.

The Government would need to pass a law mandating the presence of the app on every mobile phone sold or licensed in Bermuda. The app design ensures that the app cannot be disabled.

If the app is not present and functioning, then your phone does not function, period. Many reading this will consider the suggested app a restriction their right to use their device. But your phone is licensed and regulated by law and the Government should use this authority to enforce change.

For boaters, the app could be designed to not record the speed data on the water, by defining a boundary between land and water. Easy to establish in the app programming.

I am sure the mobile phone companies will be concerned about losing revenue from diminished data usage. If they can prove the case, then to help offset these losses, perhaps they can be compensated from the $12 government licence fee we each pay each month. I would think the mobile phone companies would embrace the idea of supporting the app as a show of concern about the state of driver behaviour on our roads.

The thresholds and penalties can be altered to what might be considered reasonable – some will want less impact, others will argue for stiffer penalties. We should have some community discussion. I do view this app as an educational tool, primarily. If it becomes a reality, then perhaps in the first week or two of use, the app just pops up screens to remind you that you have been speeding, prodding you to think about changing your driving behaviour. As the second phase kicks in, then the penalties come into force.

The app could track your behaviour over several weeks and increase the penalties for the those who persist in speeding. I suppose some will finds ways to avoid the penalties by turning off their phones but, unless the battery is actually removed, the phone is still keeping track of where it is – the app designer will have some challenges but can figure this out.

We can’t police our way out of this problem and Road Safety Week will not have an impact on the drivers with terrible habits; they are too self-centred and believe they will never be caught or cause an accident. The accident data says otherwise, as did Operation Vega.

We need another tool to help all of us slow down.


Hamilton Parish