Navigation app features pose a road safety threat: QUT CARRS-Q

Navigation apps may be a useful tool but features added to them that allow drivers to share information about speed camera locations and other forms of police enforcement are a road safety threat, according to researchers from QUT’s Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety–Queensland (CARRS-Q).

Writing in the latest issue of the BMJ journal Injury Prevention, CARRS-Q‘s Dr Oscar Oviedo-Trespalacios and Professor Barry Watson urge companies to discontinue features that help drivers evade police road safety enforcement.

If companies refuse to act, governments may need to regulate to prevent the practice.

Dr Oscar Oviedo-Trespalacios

The researchers have three key concerns with the new features of navigation apps, such as Google Maps and Waze, that allow drivers to see and share information about speed cameras and other police operations.

“Firstly, the audio alerts can interrupt drivers and encourage them to use their devices while driving, to report and/or confirm the location of the police enforcement,” they write.

“A large body of evidence now confirms that mobile phone distractions while driving are risky and can have life-threatening consequences.

“Secondly, knowledge of enforcement locations can serve to reduce drivers’ perceived risk of apprehension, thereby eroding the deterrent effect of the enforcement … this can lead drivers to believe they can engage in risky behaviours with impunity, potentially leading to increased road trauma.

“Thirdly, well established companies enabling such a feature in their technology undermine the integrity and legitimacy of road rules and related police enforcement. Technological features designed to circumvent police enforcement are symptomatic of the lack of commitment by some stakeholders to enhance road safety.”

Professor Barry Watson

Dr Oviedo-Trespalacios and Professor Watson acknowledge that some positive steps have been taken by large communications and mobile technology companies in response to calls for them “to actively recognise their role in road safety, to partner with other road safety stakeholders, and to take action to demonstrate social responsibility”.

This includes creating apps such as “Do Not Disturb While Driving” to address mobile phone distraction.

However, CARRS-Q research into apps to prevent distraction, including a mixed-methods study, found a low level of interest among drivers to take advantage of the apps and problems with their functionality that meant drivers stopped using them.

The researchers say the apps need improving to get more people to engage with them and to continue to use them while driving.

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