Measuring Driver Behavior with Mobile Phone Sensor Technology

Cab and hired car companies would love to know how safely their drivers are operating their vehicles. Without systems built directly into the car, how can this information be gathered?

What should be measured: certain information gathered during the driving experience can be related to driver safety. For example, a large number of hard brakes can indicate that a driver is operating the vehicle unsafely. Similarly, consistently driving at an excessive speed indicates a driver safety issue.

How to gather data: it is possible to gather data either from a smartphone or via OBD (on-board diagnostics) device. The advantage to the smartphone is that it can have some context, for example, where the driver was before they entered the car. OBDs are also unable to get information on user’s distraction due to SMS, text, phone calls and other usage.

In addition, data gathering via mobile phone can be consistent across different automobiles, which may have different hardware on board.

Most valuable items for measuring driver safety

Here is the list of items reported by a leading product in this industry:

• vehicle entry or exit • vehicle identification • driver or passenger identification

• rapid acceleration • speeding • hard brake • distracted driving • crash

• rough road • weather • high crime or accident

This phone sensor product can also detect who is handling the phone, whether it is the passenger or driver. This information could be crucial in determining driving safety, as a large percentage of accidents are caused by user distractions with cell phones.

It is easy to see how this data can be pulled to create a scored safety metric for a given driver. Both companies with a product in this field have a score-based system, with scores topping out at 100.

Informing the driver: drivers can also receive crowd and cloud sourced data, such as: road hazards, traffic flows and impediments, accident and crime hotspots, school and hospital zones. With this added information, drivers can be more aware of their surroundings and are less likely to have an accident.

The value of measuring driver safety

One can envision a world in which all hired drivers – from taxis to all other fleet-operated vehicles are scored based on their safety. These safety scores could be used to influence driver wages, promotions and could even be the basis for job security. Customers would be able to choose a company or driver based on the highest safety scores.

Would you be more likely to hire a car service with higher driver safety scores as measured by one of these vehicle-agnostic phone sensor products? Share your opinion in our comment section.


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Distracted Driving and Mobile Phones – What is the best solution?

In 2011, approximately 17 percent of accidents in the United States were caused by distracted driving, according to a study by the CDC (Center of Disease Control and Prevention). This number is only increasing, especially amongst younger drivers. What can be done to reverse this disturbing trend?

Distraction in the automobile can be broken down into three main categories: Visual (eyes off the road), Manual (hands off the wheel) and Cognitive (mind distracted from driving).

The most dangerous distractions involve the overlap of all three of these types: the driver is looking away, removing one or both hands from the wheel, and not paying attention to the road.

One of the main sources of distraction is a driver’s mobile phone. In our modern “always connected” culture, people are accustomed to continuous communication throughout the day. Answering or initiating emails, phone calls and text messages are a constant temptation that pull a driver’s eyes, hands and minds off the road.

In the same CDC study analyzing 2011 data, 31 percent of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 reported reading or sending texts or emails while driving at least once in the last 30 days before surveyed.

Why do people use their mobile phone in the car?

Due to increased automobile reliability and longer auto loans, drivers are holding on to vehicles longer; the average length of vehicle ownership has increased to seven years, nine months. And because of the long development cycle in the auto industry, designs can be frozen as much as three years in advance, which means that the onboard system can be outdated even in a brand-new vehicle.

In contrast, mobile phone technology moves at a rapid pace – with consumers replacing their phones approximately every eighteen months.

The driver’s main tasks in the car: navigation, playing media, and communicating with others (via dialing or text or email) can all be handled by a mobile phone. Because these devices contain the latest and greatest technology in maps, online media, and communication applications, users generally prefer using their phone over a built-in car system that is likely outdated.

In a driving environment, any and all tasks should be secondary to the primary task: driving. In-car displays with larger screens and turn-by-turn directions (read to the driver) were designed to minimize driver distraction. However, this gain cannot be realized if those built-in systems are not utilized.

In contrast, the mobile phone was designed to be an immersive device. The screen is small, and it requires a touch interface for most tasks. Even initiating a speech input on most mobile devices requires a press-and-hold or double-press of the home key, although some systems can now be initiated verbally under some special circumstances (connected to power).

Speech is the natural interface for the car

The only truly hands-free, eyes-free interaction in the automobile is a speech interface: text-to-speech (TTS) output, and speech input parsed by a speech recognition and natural language processing (NLP) engine.

But speech recognition in the car represents a significant challenge. It is generally a high-noise environment, reducing the SNR (signal-to-noise ratio), which in turn reduces accuracy and performance.

In addition to the performance challenges, in-car systems have traditionally been designed by the automakers themselves, rather than experts in the voice user interface (VUI) domain. This leads to non-optimal design solutions, which in-turn leads to lower adoption by users.

The top questions being voiced around automobile systems are: “Why are these systems so bad?” and “How can they be improved?”. Generally, this can be explained by the dichotomy between the auto industry (slow-moving, conservative) and the mobile software industry (fast-paced, aggressive).

Big technology companies making plays in the auto domain will likely push the industry towards better, more up-to-date systems.

How do you access entertainment and stay connected while driving? Do you have a special system or special equipment to help you?


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.