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Coming to the iPhone: Safe-Driving Mode

As the father of a teenager who has both a driver’s license and a smartphone, distracted driving is a top-of-mind concern. I know just how obsessed she is with viewing and responding to each and every social-media message and phone call that comes her way, no matter what else she might be doing. When it comes to teens and their phones, “addiction” isn’t too strong a descriptor.

We’ve had the “Don’t use the phone while driving” discussion. Many times. She seems to get it. But can she resist the temptation to at least sneak a peek at the latest tweet or Instagram or Facebook message when at the wheel?

Multiply that by the number of teen drivers, and to a lesser extent older drivers as well, and the scope of the distracted driver problem becomes apparent.

A few relevant data points:

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that texting and driving is six time more dangerous than driving and drinking.
  • According to the NHTSA, drivers take their eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds when texting, equivalent to driving blind for 539 feet at 80 miles per hour.
  • The National Safety Council reported that 26% of U.S. car accidents were caused by cellphone usage.
  • Extrapolating from a 2011 DOT study, an estimated 1.5 million drivers are texting at any given time.
  • Based on California Highway Patrol data, 312 California drivers die every year as a result of phone-distracted driving.

Clearly “the talk” is insufficient to separate drivers from their phones, as is legislation that imposes fines or other penalties for the use of a handheld smartphone while driving. The solution, as I’ve long advocated, is a software switch, installed either in the phone or in the car, that would disable any potentially driver-distracting functions when the car is started.

Pie in the sky? Not! It turns out that Apple has had just such a lock-out device since 2008, which the company patented in 2014. And now, finally, Apple is on the verge of incorporating it into their phones.

Included among the new products and services announced by Apple earlier this month is an update of the operating system for its iPhones. When released this fall, iOS 11 will include a Do Not Disturb While Driving app, described by the company as follows:

iOS 11 introduces a new way to help drivers stay more focused on the road with Do Not Disturb while driving. iPhone can detect when you may be driving and automatically silence notifications to keep the screen dark. Users have the option of sending an auto reply to contacts listed in Favorites to let them know they are driving and cannot respond until they arrive at their destination.

The function isn’t automatic; you have to enable it. Given the inarguable seriousness of the problem it addresses, I’d have pushed for Do Not Disturb to be the default setting, forcing drivers to manually override it if they chose to act irresponsibly. Still, this is a major step in the right direction, one which should be shamelessly copied by Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker.

During my next father-daughter talk, we’ll be discussing the new Do Not Disturb function, and I’ll be making the strongest case I can that she should keep it enabled on her iPhone. As it will be on mine.

Reader Reality Check

Will you enable Do Not Disturb on your smartphone?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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