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Of vehicle mobile phone bans, and automotive Bluetooth

: Nick Hunn, TDK Systems' Mr Bluetooth, explains

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Letters Letters Earlier this week we covered proposed UK legislation on use of mobile phones in cars, noting that the consultation document didn't seem particularly Bluetooth aware, and appeared to some extent to be banning quite a bit of the functionality of Bluetooth.

We also noted an enthusiastic quote from Nick Hunn about uptake of Bluetooth in the automotive industry, and wondered about that too. Nick, who in addition to his day job at TDK Systems is a long-standing proponent of and expert on Bluetooth, immediately came up with an explanation of where the motor industry is at, and the efforts to help the Department for Transport get its head around Bluetooth:

I was pleased to see your article, writes Nick, as it highlights very nicely the problems that the DfT and the industry in general are having with understanding Bluetooth. As you can see from the list of organisations who have been consulted in the early stages [this is in the consultation document], there is a noticeable absence of handset manufacturers - the closest you get to them is Pama, who presumably have a vested interest in hands-free kits.

I'd confirm what I'd said about the motor industry rushing ahead with Bluetooth hands-free kits. I've had dealings with motor manufacturers in the past and they generally move very conservatively as far as new technology is concerned. I've never seen the enthusiasm that they're pouring into Bluetooth. All of this is focused at Bluetooth hands-free, which is where the dichotomy lies. They see Bluetooth as a way of putting the hands-free function into the dashboard, with the advantage of working with any vendor's handsets, but without the cost of building in a GSM module. It implies that the phone exists somewhere else in the car and does not need to be touched by the user. The hands-free specs which are being implemented in these devices allow voice dialling by directing the request to the handset via the hands-free, and takes all of the audio through a dashboard mike and the audio system speakers. So there's no need to touch a handset - just some new buttons on the dashboard, which is what the DfT wants to achieve.

The problem is that the phrase "Bluetooth hands-free" is also being used to market the hi-tech ear covers which let you walk down the street talking to yourself. As you rightly state, these are no different to the existing wired headsets in terms of driver distraction and would (and should) be banned by the proposed legislation. With no initial input from the Bluetooth community, the consultation document has confused the modes of Bluetooth usage and quite understandably allows itself to be read both as banning and encouraging Bluetooth - it all depends where the handset is within the car.

We've provided this view as our submission to the DfT. It does raise the interesting question of enforcement - even if a hands-free is installed, is there a legal requirement for the phone to be far enough away from the driver to ensure that it can't be handled? It provides the interesting vision of equipping Mr Plod with tape measures to check the driver's inside arm measurement, with spot fines for individuals who can reach their phone. (This of course discriminates against gorillas and drivers whose gene pool remains slightly closer to their ancestors, so we'll have the appropriate pressure groups up in arms.) There's always the oft-cited marketing line of putting the phone in the boot, but nobody who peddles this one seems to be aware just how good a Faraday cage most boots are.

I hope that the true hands-free approach is accepted. It makes sense if one has to make a call in the car. Personally I prefer the option of turning the phone off every time I get into the car. There's a lot to be said for the chance to think in peace without the phone ringing. Although what that does to my driving concentration is another issue altogether. Bring on the thought police and spot fines for having interesting ideas while approaching a junction. ®

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