Will Apple's New iOS 11 Car Safety Features Help Us Help Ourselves?

This year at the World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) Apple announced some significant changes to the way the iPhone will behave while its user is driving. The new Car Safety features in iOS 11 arrive in response to increased pressure from the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, which has urged Apple and other cellphone manufacturers to develop safeguards to reduce death and injury attributed to distracted driving. Distracted driving has been an issue in at least some capacity for over 20 years without much response at the developer level. Distraction related accidents, whether involving gadgets or otherwise, killed nearly 3,500 people in 2015, according to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, with 391,000 lesser injuries.

Related: Apple Announces ARKit, Calls It the Largest AR Platform in the World

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Apple’s Maps app is one of the most highly used apps on the iPhone, so any adjustment to that experience has to be implemented with great care. Apple’s first initiative to reduce distraction, and improve experience, was to add “lane assistance” that indicates which lane you should be in for upcoming maneuvers relating to turns, on-ramps, and off-ramps. They have also added speed limit information to the display data.

However, the major functionality update to the iOS 11 Maps has been the “Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature. When activated, DNDWD will prevent calls and texts and related notifications from coming through. Whether using Apple Maps or not, iOS 11 will sense whether the user is driving and automatically engage this new safety feature. Any incoming texts or calls arriving while the DNDWD is engaged will receive an auto-responder message to let the sender know the user is driving. However, since hijacking users' iPhones entirely would be bad form, Apple built in some bypasses. If the user is riding as a passenger, they can indicate to the iPhone that they are a passenger and would still like to receive all incoming contacts and notifications. Additionally, users can choose specific contacts to be “white-listed” or pre-approved, allowing specific contacts to bypass the safeguard entirely. Also, incoming callers and texters can respond to the auto-responder message with an override message of “urgent,” and whatever they want to get through to the user’s screen will show up. And of course, as the ultimate override, we can all manually disengage the feature entirely in the Settings of our iPhones. Another innovative initiative, though not necessarily safety related, is the “indoor mapping” feature. This allows the Maps app to direct your path indoors at places like shopping malls and airports.

So, if people get hurt while following indoor GPS in a mall, will it be a shopping related injury?

The current debate around the DNDWD feature reminds me of when GPS started growing in popularity about 20 years ago. People were reportedly veering their cars into rivers, turning down one-way streets, and just generally not using common driving sense. People feared that we would all forget how to drive. While I’m sure there is truth to the examples of GPS history, the fact remains that with or without technology distracting us at varying levels, people will always take some dangerous distraction related risks while driving.

Where do we decide to draw the line in terms of relying on technological assistance for our safety? Driving should just be driving, right? We can all attest that this is not the case. If you go for a ride right this moment, I have full confidence that you will see someone on their phone while driving. Ultimately this decision is the responsibility of the individual. Self-driving cars are not quite here yet, so even with the moral support of our iPhone, we are still singularly responsible for safe driving. We can and should make the decision to embrace this feature by leaving it on, and it will (mostly) prevent our pocket from buzzing while we drive. If safer driving means we need our iPhones to disable themselves to keep our eyes 100 percent on the road, maybe it’s better if they’re powered off entirely. But for now, the iPhone’s DNDWD feature will hopefully at least help us help ourselves.

UPDATE: (7/6/17)

Apple’s DND While Driving feature worked as expected during my beta testing. I have included some screenshots of the Settings menu and the Control Center with the new icon. For now, I have mostly kept my DNDWD set to the Manually setting, meaning that I have to turn it on when I’m going to be driving. However, I used the Automatically setting too, and it worked fairly well by turning on once I was going around 10 mph. I can see myself switching to that before long. My car doesn’t have Bluetooth, so that setting isn’t an option for me.

  

The new settings can be found under the Settings, and inside the Do Not Disturb menu item. At the bottom, DNDWD has inspired three new settings: Activate, Auto-Reply To, and Auto-Reply. Activate chooses between the three options for when the feature will activate (Automatically, Manually, or Bluetooth), Auto-Reply To allows for choosing who will receive the Auto-Reply (No One, Recents, Favorites, or All Contacts), and Auto-Reply is simply a field where you can customize the message those people will receive. Again, I’m set to Manually, and I changed my Auto-Reply To from “Favorites” to “All Contacts” since I’m leaving the default message up for now. If this feature follows the model of our traditional DND feature, eventually I could see Apple allowing for different Auto-Reply messages or activation behaviors based on time of day. With features like this where our lives are impacted in such a real way, the more customization we have the better.

  

One feature I didn’t mention previous is the Parental Restrictions. I think this is a fantastic move on Apple’s part. Under the Settings menu, choose General and then Restrictions. As a parent, you can then set the DNDWD up with the confidence that the options will stay as you set them. As younger drivers are so prone to distraction, while also being generally the least experienced, this is a feature that will go a long way toward preventing accidents. For all the ways users will be inclined to ignore and override this safety feature, the integration of these Parental Restrictions will actually have a significant impact that Apple will be able to give itself a solid pat on the back about.

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Chris Vasques has worked for tech companies such as Avid and Gazelle, where his long history of gadget and technology fascination became a professional passion. He is currently studying Sustainable Community Development with a focus on Media Marketing, and enjoys writing, playing music, productivity hacks and entrepreneurism.