It’s only been a couple of days since Apple introduced the next version of iOS and already there’s a lot to look forward to.
But none of these even come close to being the most important feature of iOS 11: Do Not Disturb While Driving.
Yes, the driving feature, which automatically mutes notifications when it detects you’re driving, stands to be the most consequential feature of iOS 11 for one reason: it could actually help save lives.
Before you roll your eyes too hard, consider this: distracted driving contributes to thousands of accidents — many of them deadly — each year. And while it’s difficult to track the full scale of the role smartphones play in distracted driving accidents, the numbers we have suggest it’s already a significant problem.
In 2014, the last year for which there is detailed data, there were 404 deaths on U.S roads “directly linked” to the use of a phone. At least 33,000 more were injured in crashes linked to mobile phone use.
That may not sound particularly large compared with the overall number of fatalities and injuries, but the true numbers are likely higher since it can be difficult for investigators to confirm the role a phone played in an accident after the fact. And experts do agree that traffic fatalities are on the rise, and smartphones could be at least partially to blame.
Teens, a group for which car crashes are the leading cause of death, are especially at risk. They use electronic devices, including phones, at significantly higher rates than any other age group, according to NHTSA data, so it’s no wonder they are also more likely to be involved in a fatal crash linked to distracted driving than their older counterparts.
That’s why in November, the NHTSA proposed a new set of guidelines specifically aimed at smartphone makers to help combat the danger posed by distracted driving. The voluntary guidelines ask manufacturers to adopt a dedicated “driving mode,” a “simplified user interface” that strips out distracting information while you’re behind the wheel.
Which brings me back to Apple’s “Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature.
The feature, which disables incoming notifications when it detects that you’re in a moving vehicle, embraces these (admittedly vague) guidelines more than any other major tech company so far.
Of course, it’s up to individual users to choose to enable the feature while they’re in the car, which could present the biggest hurdle to the feature taking off — but it shouldn’t. The statistics above spell out exactly why.
“We think this is going to be a real important step with safety in the car,” Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi said of the new feature.
And while it’s easy to dismiss the often overly dramatic statements made by Apple executives (like the tone-deaf assertion by Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller that “I can’t think of anything that matters more to so many of us” than a better home audio speaker), this is one instance where the company should absolutely be taken seriously.
Lives could depend on it.