Katie Stancombe, CNHI News Indiana
When you’re driving, just drive.
That’s the slogan for a new iPhone feature included in the iOS 11 update coming this fall. It’s called “Do Not Disturb While Driving,” Apple’s aim to cut back the number of distracted drivers on the road.
If the phone is connected to Bluetooth and senses that you might be driving, it will silence all notifications and keep the screen dark to prevent you from reaching down to check it.
The feature also has an option to send automatic replies to anyone who might try to reach you while you’re behind the wheel. Something along the lines of, “I’m driving and can’t respond right now” or "I'm currently in the car, I'll call you later."
Distracted driving is an increasing cause of car accidents nationwide.
Hoosiers saw roughly 1,500 crashes where cellphone usage was recorded as the primary or contributing cause in 2016, according to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.
Those crashes resulted in 481 injuries and 10 deaths.
“Anyone who drives will likely see this more than they used to,” said Will Wingfield, the institute’s communications director. “Based upon all available evidence, this is something that is a growing concern.”
On average, it takes a driver five seconds to look down while using a phone. At 55 miles per hour, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.
Claudia Hoffman, 19, of Indianapolis, experienced this first hand while on her way to school. Someone in front of her wasn’t paying attention to the road and was driving unpredictably.
“The car would go straight for a while and then it would veer off into the other lane, then swerve really quickly back into its lane,” Hoffman said. “I was doing my best to kind of stay away from the person, but they were speeding up really fast, slowing down and swerving everywhere.”
When Hoffman pulled up next to the car, she saw the girl in the driver’s seat was on her phone.
“She was looking down not even glancing up at the road,” Hoffman said. “So I honked my horn and she jolted her head over really fast. She was probably worried that she was about to hit somebody.”
A few minutes after disregarding Hoffman’s warning and speeding away, the car rear-ended an SUV.
“She was going pretty fast,” Hoffman said. “I mean she braked before she hit them, but she was not prepared for the stop at all. It was a bad wreck.”
Accidents like these are why Indiana State Police First Sgt. Rich Meyers thinks the only thing drivers should be doing while driving is focusing on the road ahead.
“That goes to show you it’s very, very hard to do two things at once,” Meyers said. “It’s our personal responsibility that should start now. You don’t need an app to do it yourself, and perhaps save your life or the life of someone you love.”
All three said they hope the iPhone feature will positively affect the problem of distracted driving, but they have their concerns.
“I wish people would use it, but I’m not sure that they will,” Hoffman said, “because now you can put your phone on 'Do Not Disturb' or you can turn your phone off and put it on your seat next to you.”
Hoffman said that even though she has looked at her phone while driving before, she makes it a habit not to do so now. Whether others will follow that example she isn't sure.
“Some people do that, but others don’t really care,” she said. “It’ll be interesting to see how that works out.”