Apple has patented technology that would disable a cellphone if it was used by a driver while driving, but has never used it. File photo: Elaine Thompson / AP

London - The relatives of four people killed by a truck driver using his cellphone at the wheel have called on Apple to introduce a disabling function.

In 2008 Apple filed an application to patent a ‘lock-out’ feature which would disable a phone when being used by a driver, but has never introduced it.

Patent documents reveal that the device would be able to determine if the car was moving using GPS and see who was using the phone by activating its camera. But despite the patent being granted in 2014, Apple has not added the potentially life-saving feature to its products.

Tracy Houghton, 45, from Dunstable, Bedfordshire, was killed alongside her sons Josh, 11, and Ethan, 13, and stepdaughter Aimee Goldsmith, 11, when Polish driver Tomasz Kroker, 30, ploughed into a queue of traffic on the A34 in Berkshire while distracted by his phone in August 2016.

Now their relatives have asked Apple for a meeting to urge the company to introduce the technology in Britain.

Doug Houghton, who lost sons Josh and Ethan, said: “If that technology exists it should be compulsory. There is an epidemic of people using their phone at the wheel. And what do you do with epidemics? You cure them.”

Mark Goldsmith, Mrs Houghton’s partner and Aimee’s father, said: “It should be impossible to use your phone in the driving seat of a car.

“It would be fantastic if that feature was included.”

How it works

The technology contains a ‘motion analyser’ which can detect the speed at which the car is moving. A ‘scenery analyser’ checks if the phone was being used in a safe location or in the driving seat.

The device would look out for things such as distance from the phone to wheel and whether other people were in the car.

Patent documents state: “Texting while driving has become a major concern of parents, law enforcement and the general public.”

They add that the function could be used without making any modifications to the car.

The development was also backed by Paul Carvin, 59, from Morpeth, Northumberland, whose wife Zoe, 42, died when she was crushed while waiting in a queue of traffic. Father-of-two Mr Carvin said carmakers and cellphone companies had a duty to stop phones being used by drivers.

He added: “Some people will respond to education and some people will respond if there is a harsh punishment. Some people won’t respond to any of that.

“This is the equivalent of taking a phone away, like saying to children: ‘You don’t use it at mealtimes’ – until eventually they don’t do it any more.”

Safety charity Brake said: ‘With so many people flouting current laws, technology that would make this impossible could be life-saving.”

Apple would not reveal why it had not pushed ahead with development of the technology. A spokesman said: “We are strongly committed to helping users stay safe.”

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