Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi had a lot to crow about, and a lot to announce at the annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose today, but it was something that took up just one minute and 48 seconds of the more than two-hour presentation that was their best idea, and deserves credit and support.

As part of the next version of the iPhone operating system, iOS 11, due later this year Apple will be including a feature called Do Not Disturb While Driving.

With road trauma and road deaths a constant reminder of the risks we take on the road, it’s utterly ridiculous that we find ourselves even glancing at our phones to see who just messaged us let alone picking up the phone to reply.

Apple’s Do Not Disturb while driving feature has the chance to make a big impact here.

From what we can gather, the system uses several factors to determine that you are in a car.  The use of Bluetooth to connect to your hands-free system as well as the speed of travel using GPS and WiFi signalling.  This is not new, even Pokemon Go detects your fast movement and pops up an alert to warn you not to play while driving.

But of course, Pokemon can be caught while riding the train or a bus, so there is no need to lock down the app because of this movement.

After iOS 11 detects you are in a car for the first time, it will tell you that it will operate in Do Not Disturb mode in future trips.  This mode essentially shuts down the screen of your phone.

Notifications from apps won’t appear, new text messages won’t appear and nor will they buzz or beep and alert.  That simple temptation is removed.

We haven’t yet tested the service, but I can assume that two things will still work.

Firstly Maps.  Using Apple Maps for navigation is possible even when the phone is locked.  I would assume that if it is in guidance mode the maps will appear, but all notifications will be hidden.

Likewise, with Phone calls; if you are paired to a handsfree system, no reason why you can’t use steering wheel controls or Siri to answer a call – safe, and legal.

But when someone sends you a text – you won’t see it.

Press to unlock your phone and you’ll be reminded you are in Do Not Disturb mode.

If you’re a passenger, you can turn it off – and yes, that means a driver could to the same.  However, it’s the removal of the temptation by getting rid of the notifications that will allow a higher level of compliance than one might normally expect.

Here’s where it gets really interesting, and smart.

When someone sends you a text message, and you are in Driving mode – they will get an instant reply advising them you are driving and will see the message when you arrive at your destination.

Worried about urgent family issues?  Set your partner or other contacts as favourites, and when they text you they will get a secondary follow up auto reply stating that if the issue is urgent – to send another message with the word Urgent, and the original text WILL be delivered to the phone.

No, this is not fool proof.  No, this won’t stop people completely.  But removing that temptation will go a very long way to reducing the use of phones in cars – and if Apple can do it – so should every other mobile operating system developer.

It won’t be perfect on day one, but a company like Apple will hopefully make it configurable enough to suit the needs of everyone and improve it over time to have a marked impact on our road deaths and road trauma rates – not just in Australia but around the world.


Trevor Long travelled to San Jose for WWDC as a guest of Apple, for our full list of commercial interests and disclosures – click here