Smartphone app trial rewards safe drivers

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A SMARTPHONE app that rewards and promotes safe driving is about to go on trial in Newcastle.

After a horror start to the year on Hunter roads with nine lives already lost, the S-Drive app disables the driver’s smartphone when it is placed in a cradle.

It allows voice-recognition calls only and monitors speed via GPS.

The app has been developed by Samsung and is available on only its phones at this stage.

The trial, which begins tomorrow  and will run for 17 weeks, has the backing of the city’s police chief and state MP.

Drivers earn reward points, which can be used to claim prizes, for not speeding or using their phone.

Newcastle was chosen to host the trial because of the area’s high number of road accidents involving young drivers and the rate of mobile phone use while driving, Samsung said.

The nine fatalities in the year to date compares to five for the same period last year, police  traffic tactician for the northern region Chief Inspector Trent Le-Merton, said.

‘‘It’s certainly been a bad start to the year, and as a result of that we’re now putting additional resources into the area to target the issue,’’ he said.

Statistics provided by Chief Inspector Le-Merton showed that 38per cent of the 95 fatalities recorded in the Northern Region in 2013 were drivers aged between 18 and 35. 

Newcastle MP Tim Owen  said he had been consulted about the trial, along with Newcastle local area police commander Superintendent John Gralton and University of Newcastle vice-chancellor Caroline McMillen, and supported the idea.

‘‘We’ve had some significant issues with mobile phone use while driving in the past, so from our point of view it was a good reason to have the trial,’’ Mr Owen said.

‘‘I think this is a great incentive for young people in the area.’’

Superintendent John Gralton also  supports the trial.

‘‘Any initiative or strategy aimed to reduce road trauma which encourages drivers to stay within speed limits is welcomed by the police,’’ he said.

In a 24-hour statewide operation last month, nearly 1000 drivers were fined for mobile offences across NSW, with 63 of those in the Hunter.

A spokesman for Transport for NSW’s Centre for Road Safety said distraction, which included mobile phone use, was one of the top five contributing factors in road fatalities despite being under-reported in official crash data.

Speeding remained the highest contributing factor.

He said the Centre for Road Safety was aware of the S-Drive trial, and supported the use of technology to improve road safety.

Last month the NSW government released its own Speed Adviser app for smartphones which alerts drivers with voice warnings when entering school zones and other changed speed limits.

Rob Bukey, 26, of Warners Bay, has signed up to participate in the trial and said it was a good chance for the Hunter to improve on what he called a ‘‘hoon’’ culture.

MOBILE: Rob Bukey of Warners Bay with his app on his windscreen as part of a Hunter trial of incentives to encourage better driving habits.  Picture: Brock Perks

MOBILE: Rob Bukey of Warners Bay with his app on his windscreen as part of a Hunter trial of incentives to encourage better driving habits. Picture: Brock Perks

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