US regulators seek to reduce road deaths with smartphone ‘driving mode’

smartphone use while driving
While the NHTSA cannot force manufacturers to follow the guidelines, previous guidelines have seen wide adoption and implementation. Photograph: Rob Lever/AFP/Getty Images


US regulators are seeking to reduce smartphone-related vehicle deaths with a new driving-safe mode that would block or modify apps to prevent them being a distraction while on the road.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are to issue voluntary guidelines for smartphone makers, which will seek to restrict the apps and services accessible on a smartphone being used by a driver.

US transport secretary Anthony Foxx told the New York Times: “Your smartphone becomes so many different things that it’s not just a communication device. Distraction is still a problem. Too many people are dying and being injured on our roadways.”

The NHTSA is hoping that Apple, Samsung and other popular smartphone manufacturers will adopt the guidelines in future smartphone and software releases. The so-called driving mode will block distractions such as social media, messages or email, stop the use of the keyboard for communication activities and also restrict access to websites, video and distracting graphics.

The intention is that the driving mode will be adopted in a similar manner to the airplane mode common to most smartphones and connected devices, which restricts radio communications while airborne. Airplane mode has been a feature of smartphones since 2007.

While the NHTSA cannot force manufacturers to follow the guidelines, previous guidelines concerning the design and use of navigation and entertainment systems built into cars have seen wide adoption and implementation.

The guidelines for smartphones call for features able to differentiate between drivers and passengers within cars, so that only the driver is shown a simplified and restricted view. They also request a connection between smartphones and in-car controls such as steering wheel buttons, to remove the need to interact with the screen.

two cars following an accident
Data from the NHTSA shows that 3,179 people were killed and 431,000 were injured in crashes involving distracted driving in 2014 in the US. Photograph: Christof R Schmidt/Getty Images/F1online RM

Such driving modes are already implemented within certain Android smartphones, including Samsung models, but they are not compulsory and are up to the users to activate.

Simplified driving mode interfaces are also a feature of several smart in-vehicle mounting options, which aim to collect navigation, music and other driving orientated features into a large button interface that is easier to at arms length and less distracting.


Could Donald Trump really get Apple to ‘build a big plant’ in the US?

Donald Trump says he promised Apple CEO Tim Cook ‘incentives’ such as tax breaks to get the company to bring its manufacturing home.
Donald Trump says he promised Apple CEO Tim Cook ‘incentives’ such as tax breaks to get the company to bring its manufacturing home. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

Donald Trump told Apple CEO Tim Cook that he is going to “get” the company to start manufacturing its products in the United States, the president-elect told the New York Times on Tuesday.

Trump revealed that he had received a post-election phone call from Cook during which he said, “Tim, you know one of the things that will be a real achievement for me is when I get Apple to build a big plant in the United States, or many big plants in the United States.”

According to Trump’s account, Cook responded, “I understand that,” and Trump went on to promise incentives through tax breaks and reduced regulations.

“I think we’ll create the incentives for you, and I think you’re going to do it,” Trump said he said.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation of Trump’s characterization of the call, nor did it respond to a request for comment on the content of Trump’s remarks.

Though Apple markets its high-end products as being “designed by Apple in California”, the electronics are assembled at factories in China from components produced primarily in China, Japan and Taiwan, according to the MIT Technology Review. The company says that its suppliers employ more than 1.6 million people.

Forcing American companies to bring jobs back to the US was one of the key themes of Trump’s presidential campaign, despite his own business’s decision to manufacture apparel in China or Bangladesh.

“We’re going to get Apple to build their damn computers and things in this country instead of in other countries,” the then-candidate told supporters in Virginia on 18 January.

Trump later called for a boycott of the company’s products unless it acceded to the FBI’s demand that it unlock one of the San Bernardino shooters’ iPhones, a request Apple had strenuously resisted.

Apple markets its products as ‘designed in California’ but assembles them in Chinese factories from components produced in China, Japan and Taiwan.


Pokémon Go: amorphous blob Ditto makes its debut

A Ditto in the very first Pokemon game.
A Ditto in the very first Pokemon game. Photograph: Nintendo


Pokémon Go has finally given players a big reason to come back to the game: the introduction of the first new Pokemon since it launched back in July.

Pokémon trainers can now catch Ditto, an amorphous blob that can transform into any other Pokemon using its signature move “mimic”. But there’s a catch.

You won’t see Ditto on the world map, the overview screen where players see which Pokémon are around them. That’s because it’s hiding in plain sight, disguised as other Pokémon. In other words, that Ratatta or Pidgey you wouldn’t normally bother with? If you catch it, it might be a Ditto.

Ditto was caught?!
Ditto was caught?! Photograph: Niantic Labs

If someone else nearby you has caught the Ditto in the area already, it will show up marked in its true form.

Once you’ve caught Ditto, it acts largely like you’d expect. You can take it to a Pokémon gym, where it will transform itself into a copy of the first Pokémon you fight, stealing its moves. Unless it’s another Ditto, in which case both blobs will sit there, uselessly blobbing at each other with a basic attack.

As if that isn’t a good enough reason to pop back to Pokémon Go, the game is also offering double XP and stardust for the next week, to “say thank you” to the community. It’s almost as though Niantic Labs knows it’s Thanksgiving in the US and wants to make the most of the fact that people might have more time to play the game.