Road-safety groups are welcoming the planned fall arrival of a new iPhone feature that blocks incoming calls while the owner is driving.
The feature is part of Apple’s iOS 11, a major update to its mobile operating system, due for release this fall.
“iPhone can detect when you may be driving and automatically silence notifications to keep the screen dark,” Apple says in a statement.
“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.”
Apple Software Engineering Senior Vice President Craig Federighi says the feature is all about keeping eyes on the road.
“When you are driving you don’t need to be responding to these kind of messages,” he says.
Jake Nelson, director-traffic safety advocacy and research for the American Automobile Assn., says the Do Not Disturb While Driving feature is a clear effort to help keep motorists focused on driving.
“AAA is eager to learn more about how users respond to the feature and to see if it has a real-world impact on safety,” he says in an emailed statement.
The reaction is echoed in the U.K., where road-safety organization GEM Motoring Assist calls the Apple update an excellent step forward and a powerful awareness-raiser for road safety.
But GEM road-safety officer Neil Worth says the group is concerned there is an option for a vehicle occupant to override the “do not disturb” mode.
“Currently we are not aware of any technology that can distinguish between a driver and passenger choosing to override the safety feature,” Worth says in a statement.
“No doubt a hard core of offenders, with little or no regard for the law, will choose this option and continue to put lives at risk by using a phone while driving.
“For every driver, taking personal responsibility and never touching or using a phone on a journey is the most effective way of reducing risk.”
U.S. safety agency NHTSA has said distracted driving is the No.1 cause of accidents and calls it a “deadly epidemic.”
Its data shows distracted driving was involved in 10% of the 35,092 U.S. traffic deaths in 2015, the most recent figures available.
There are an average 11 teenage deaths a day as a result of texting while driving, and an AAA poll found that while 94% of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of the practice, 35% do it anyway.
At the end of last year NHTSA released the second phase of voluntary guidelines to help address driver distraction caused by mobile and other electronic devices in vehicles.
A NHTSA spokesman tells WardsAuto the agency is aware of the new Apple Do Not Disturb While Driving feature.
“However, NHTSA has not yet had an opportunity to evaluate how the feature functions in relation to the proposed Phase 2 guidelines,” the spokesman says in an emailed statement.
“The agency is always encouraged by any steps taken to help drivers make safer choices when driving.”