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In the race to find new ways to combat distracted driving, technology giant Apple has revealed its newest “do not disturb” feature in the iOS 11 beta.

As smartphones become more and more ubiquitous in our society, distracted driving continues to rise as a factor in dangerous and deadly crashes on the roadways. The U.S. Department of Transportation states that distracted driving was a factor in ten percent of fatal crashes, 15 percent of injury crashes, and 14 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle crashes in 2015.

Technology companies have been working for the last several years on applications that can help drivers to follow their best instincts and avoid using their phones while driving. Apple’s recent contribution to the fight for safer highways is now in testing with beta users.

New Feature on Apple iOS 11 Beta Significantly Reduces Distraction

Apple announced their new “Do Not Disturb While Driving” mode at their Worldwide Developer Conference in June 2017. The feature goes further than Apple has gone before, giving users the ability to shut down distractions at a system level. When active, the feature can sense when a user is in a car, and when it’s connected to the car’s Bluetooth or USB connection. It will make the screen dark, and allow only emergency alerts to show up.

Users can still play music or enjoy navigational assistance when the feature is enabled and can choose to allow messages and calls from certain contacts (such as immediate family). Otherwise, while the car is moving, if a message, call, or other alert is received, the phone will not issue a notification that could interrupt the driver. Instead, it will send an automatic message to the sender that the driver is behind the wheel and will get back to them once they reach their destination.

The feature then delivers a second message offering the sender a way to break through the block in an emergency. This feature will encourage more people to use the “do not disturb feature”, as they don’t have to worry that a loved one won’t be able to reach them in an emergency.

Several Apps Offer Auto-Replies While Driving

Though the feature is good news for Apple users, it is not the first on the market. Android phones have had similar features for a while now. Android Auto can be installed on any recent Android phone and creates auto-reply messages to be sent while you’re behind the wheel. The driver does have to tap a reply button, however.

If This Then That (IFTTT) also works on Android phones and automatically sends replies to messages while you’re driving. To use this feature, you have to turn it on when you get in the car and turn it off when you get out. And it does not have sensors that can tell when you’re behind the wheel.

There are several other third-party apps that give users ways to automatically respond to messages. Critics are pushing technology companies to go further, though, stating that as long as these features remain optional, the danger will persist. Some believe that to truly safeguard lives on the road, smartphones must sense when users are driving, and automatically shut down alerts without giving consumers a choice in the matter.

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