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Joel Feldman
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Apple Misses an Opportunity to Reduce Distracted Driving Tragedies with the “Do Not Disturb While Driving” Feature

8 comments

Apple’s announcement of a new feature in its iOS 11 operating system to be launched in ApplePhonethe fall of 2017, “Do Not Disturb While Driving” (DNDWD), appears on the surface to be something that may save lives. Details on how it will actually work are sparse but media reports summarizing the announcement do provide some basic information. Once the new operating system is downloaded on your iPhone, it will detect when you are moving and can make most features on your phone inaccessible. So far that sounds like very good news for the motoring public. Those of us who have committed to driving safely would be protected from the many selfish drivers who ignore the risks of using smartphones while driving. More and more of us are being killed in highway crashes each year and experts point to distracted driving as a cause of that increase in fatalities. Clearly we need to be protected from distracted drivers, and drivers who ignore risks and choose to use smartphones while driving, need to be protected from themselves.

 

But what Apple is providing is far short of an automatic “lock-out mechanism” which would disable all features that interfere with safe driving once the phone detects movement. Apple has patented such technology and in its 2008 patent described its function as one that “would prevent operation of one or more functions of handheld computing devices by drivers when operating vehicles.”(US Patent 8,706,1430). A review of what it is reported the iOS 11 operating system will and will not do makes it clear that Apple has chosen to limit the protection to be afforded to the public by drivers using iPhones while driving as compared to what it had patented.

 

It appears that once the phone detects that you are moving, it will prompt the driver to engage the DNDWD feature, or that feature can simply be ignored, and the driver will be able to use the phone without limitation and in a dangerous fashion. Allowing the driver to bypass the protection afforded by the system permits those divers who put their self-interest over the safety of others to continue to do so. Apple could and should have made the iOS operating system more like what was described in its patent. Without question there are a large percentage of iPhone users who will opt out of the protective features of the iOS 11 and continue to drive distracted. To be fair, it is likely that some iPhone users who randomly texted or used apps while driving in the past, may stop doing so altogether as a result of the iOS 11. This is a positive. But, it is likely that hard core texters or apps users will not want their use of the iPhone limited and will opt out of engaging the DNDWD feature.

 

If a driver chooses to activate the DNDWD feature, the screen will remain dark, blocking all notifications and app use. This will undoubtedly lead to fewer crashes. When DNDWD is engaged a message will be sent to those who try to contact the driver advising that the driver is unavailable to respond.  However, the driver can still program in a number of contacts whose calls and texts will nonetheless get through the DNDWD feature. Users are given the opportunity to allow frequent contacts like family, friends and co-workers to bypass the safety features. Isn’t it likely that many users will do so thereby eliminating the protective features of the device? Aren’t those most likely to call or text us our family, friends and co-workers? Additionally, if a sender of a text receives an automatic reply indicating the recipient is driving, if the sender replies to that message with the word “urgent,” that notification will also bypass the system. How many of us have really had a message or call that was so urgent that it could not wait 10 or 20 minutes to be received? Will impatient texters now use the “urgent” reply to bypass the DNDWD even when there is no emergency?

 

Apple has taken a first step in trying to reduce tragedies caused by motorists using its iPhone. It is a small step, but it is unlikely to make a significant dent in the distracted driving epidemic. There will still be many crashes, injuries and deaths caused by drivers using iPhones. While Apple could be applauded for taking this first step we should not lose sight of the fact that drivers using the iPhone are involved in thousands of crashes and, despite the DNDWD feature, crashes involving iPhones will continue. It is hoped that Nokia, Samsung and other smartphone manufacturers will do even more to protect us. Apple missed an opportunity to be a leader in saving lives, putting profits and consumer convenience before safety.

 

Joel Feldman is an attorney in Philadelphia with the law firm of Anapol Weiss. After his daughter Casey was killed by a distracted driver he founded EndDD.org  (End Distracted Driving). EndDD.org has a network of speakers across the country and provides distracted driving presentations to schools, communities and businesses. For more information about scheduling presentations or learning what you can do to end distracted driving e-mail Joel at info@EndDD.org

8 Comments

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    Hi Joel.

    I’m a computer consultant, a Grand Dad, a very responsible driver, and have been concerned about the epidemic of dialing while driving for a long time.

    I found out that dialing while driving poses the greatest threat, much more than talking on the phone while driving. So I developed an app (see the link for it’s dev contest contribution) Called Draw&Dial for the iPhone only. I have been using it for three years now and never looked back. It simply addresses the problem of DIALING by letting you draw letters right on the screen with audio prompting. you never have to look at the screen while driving. This App really IMO reduces the risk overall in spite of it being controversial!

    Thank you so much for this article. and my condolences for your loved one passing away. Keep the great work.

  2. up arrow

    It’s really a dilemma, Giving the driver his freedom or taking away his/her phone usage rights while driving.

    I think Apple has put so much thought into this addition and they might just consider it a bold first step. Adding to that, as an I.T. consultant I’d like to note that figuring out if you’re moving or still requires the miracle of Artificial Intelligence (or Machine Learning) to be very accurate to distinguish driving from running or fast walking and they must have put so much work in it, they are serious.

  3. Alpay Lök says:
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    As long as there is no government decision and enforcement, there will not be 100% right application by the Phone manufacturers, because it limits the market chance of the phone. That is why any small step, before enforcement is welcome. Thanks.

  4. Mark Brisson says:
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    Most are familiar with accidents/crashes that occur with teens and their driving. However, there is also an issue with company/fleet vehicles. These vehicles spend more time on the road than personal vehicles. Because the driver is on the clock and working, they will try to “multi-task” and do work other than driving when they are behind the wheel. Emails, phone calls, using apps and texting are often part of a drivers’ workload.

    While many states and legislators are seeking to lower distracted driving by increasing penalties, fees and regulations, as Apple is showing there are another options. AT&T “It Can Wait” campaign is an advocacy effort to diminish distracted driving. They already have an anti-texting app to be downloaded onto your smartphones. The app is called AT&T DriveMode. They make it available to all drivers for FREE!

    One area that is rarely discussed is that our states has hundreds of State vehicles that inspectors, regulators and the agricultural department use as fleet vehicles, but they do not have the technology to diminish distracted driving. I would love to see one state lead by example and use a program, like FleetMode, to block texts, redirect incoming phone calls, and impede all other apps in the State vehicles. If we want our state roads to be safer, let’s start by making our state vehicles safer.

  5. Mike Demele says:
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    Hi Joel,
    Great post thank you for this. We (LifeSaver) agree it’s a baby step, but a good one. The challenge seems to be the ‘opt in’ part as we all know most think “it’s somebody else’s problem, but not mine”. Larger, more complex problem than just ‘locking’ the phone too because it’s an instrument of enablement in the car that has it’s benefits (like navigation). Each state has it’s own laws (or not), and each fleet we engage with has a different variation of what they feel it ‘accepted’ use on the road. Making it difficult for companies like Apple to just put a one size fits all solution in the phone that’ll work for the varying needs of parents and fleets. On the surface it seems so obvious to get all the way off the phone, but unfortunately the tech and world is going in the opposite direction of ‘enablement’. We have high hopes Apple will open access to it’s baby steps taken here and where appropriate let the solution ecosystem better provide for the more complex needs safely. This is never happening fast enough. Keep fighting the good fight.

  6. Joe Capowski says:
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    Am I missing something here? By default the feature is turned off and the driver can use his/her phone while driving. If Apple really wanted to make a statement about the risk of cell-phone use, they would default the feature to be enabled and the only way to disable it would be to do so while the car is stationary.

  7. Jim Ramirez says:
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    Its a first step for sure, but it won’t be breaking any bad habits soon. Is it possible for Apple (or any phone manufacturer) to lock down on safety while not disappointing their most “active” phone users?

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