Text and ride? App jams smartphone signal when on your bike

Smart indeed: Dutch firm’s aim is to halt teenage practice of texting while cycling

It’s a dangerous and potentially lethal combination, cycling and using a smartphone, which is why a Dutch telecom company has developed a new app that shuts down your mobile phone signal once you unlock and mount your bike.

The idea is to prevent cyclists – particularly teenagers – from causing traffic incidents while distracted.

In particular, it aims to nip in the bud the increasingly common phenomenon of texting while cycling, a practice that demands all of a cyclist’s concentration, not to mention balance.

The research that led to the app was carried out by telecom provider, KPN, which found that 12- to 18-year-olds are the worst offenders when it comes to texting or responding to incoming messages on WhatsApp, Snapchat or Instagram while barrelling along on their bikes.


Increasingly worried

In a country with more bicycles than people, figures from the Dutch Traffic Safety Associations show that one in five incidents involving young cyclists has smartphone use as a contributory factor – so parents are becoming increasingly worried.

Not alone that: despite a nationwide network of bicycle lanes, 12 teenagers were killed and 441 injured in cycling incidents in the Netherlands involving phones in 2015 alone – many of which could have been avoided with a little more care.

How does it work? Instead of unlocking the bike using old technology, a key, the cyclist uses a mobile app which simultaneously unlocks the bike and sends a signal to the KPN network to disable all the phone’s connections except the 112 emergency number.

Vulnerability of children

Once the app is used to lock the bike again, the phone is instantly reactivated.

"What's becoming increasingly apparent is the vulnerability of children and teenagers using phones on bikes – the two really don't go together," says Victorina de Boer of KPN, which developed the lock with specialists, AXA Bike Security.

And it’s not just for teenagers, of course. “For anyone who doesn’t want to be disturbed by mobile phone calls or alerts that take their mind off the traffic around them when they least expect it, this is a safe solution. It means you won’t be tempted.”

The “Safe Lock” – a world first for its designers – is due to go on sale by the end of the year at a retail price of about €100. It will be available initially only to users of Android phones, but a version for Apple’s iOS mobile software is expected to follow.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court