British Columbia

App that blocks phone use while driving to be tested in B.C.

The province and ICBC have teamed up to test new technology to crack down on distracted driving, including a phone app that pairs with a plug-in device that blocks the use of the phone while the car is turned on.

If pilot project proves successful, province says it could lead to reduced rates for good drivers

ICBC will be testing two types of technology to cut down on distracted driving, Attorney General David Eby announced on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. (David Horemans/CBC)

The province and ICBC have teamed up to test two new technologies in the hopes of cracking down on distracted driving: a smart phone app for drivers and a camera for police officers. 

"ICBC looked at the apps that were available on the market, stand-alone apps, and felt that they were insufficient to ensure that people were not using their phone while they were driving," said Attorney General David Eby on Tuesday.

He says ICBC has chosen instead to move forward with a pilot project involving an app that pairs with a plug-in device in a driver's vehicle. 

Attorney General David Eby (left) and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth (right) discuss the new pilot projects ICBC is undertaking to cut down on distracted driving. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

"The telematics device will tell the app that they're driving and basically it will lock out hand-held use of their phone based on the fact that they're driving," said Mark Milner, a road safety program manager at ICBC.

ICBC is looking for 200 volunteers to sign up for the three-month pilot, which is set to start in January. 

Milner says ICBC will survey drivers throughout the pilot to see what the experience is like and whether it is effective at preventing them from picking up their phones.

If a smart phone app and plug-in device prove successful, drivers who volunteer to have them installed could see lower insurance rates, according to the province. (The Associated Press)

"Most people know that they shouldn't be doing that, and most people understand why. They know it increases your crash risk by about 500 per cent, actually, when you're using your phone handheld, but, still, a lot of people have a hard time resisting," he said.

"We're hoping that this is something that we can do that will help them with that."

Police to test out new scope

The second project ​to be tested is a $14,500 scope, or camera, that police officers will attach to either a smartphone or tablet to take pictures of drivers who are using their phones behind the wheel and then send that image to another police officer who can pull the distracted driver over.

Eby says the hope is this will make a difference by encouraging police to do more enforcement and, also, by providing instant feedback to drivers themselves. 

"The point of all of this is to drive down the number of collisions, to prevent the number of accidents and to save lives," said Eby.

Technologies could lead to cheaper rates for good drivers

If the pilot projects are successful, the province thinks they could play a role in setting new, fairer rates for drivers — particularly the app. 

"One of the pieces around the substantial reforms to ICBC that we're looking at is how we set rates," Eby said.

"We think that [the smart phone app] could potentially inform how rates are set and that drivers who take this on voluntarily, in exchange, may receive a lower rate."

Eby also acknowledged there could be privacy concerns over the use of both new technologies, but, he says, before fully implementing anything, the province would ensure it is compliant with privacy laws.