There's nothing quite like "borrowing" an idea from someone else in the tech world. It's all about how you implement the idea, how you make sure the idea is still general enough that it is not outright theft, and then how your user base reacts to the change.

That's what makes a new feature on the iPhone, called Do Not Disturb While Driving, so interesting. It's something Android users have enjoyed (or been annoyed by) for a while. On the iPhone, it means your phone is basically locked. When you use the mode and pick up your phone, you'll see a screen that says your phone is disabled.

When you get a message or receive a phone call, the iPhone can then send a message back that you're driving. To enable the feature on any iPhone that runs iOS 11, just head to Settings and enable the Do Not Disturb While Driving feature. You can set it to activate automatically when the iPhone senses you are driving or manually when you decide to use it. (A chip inside the phone can sense movement that could only result from a car.)

Over the last week, I've used the feature many times. Well, to be more specific--I've stopped after driving to sit idle in a parking lot or the curb and picked up my phone, only to realize that it was impossible for me to check for a text or glance at my iTunes playlist.

You can go through a few settings to disable it of course, but it's really a reminder to stay safe, remain vigilant, and keep your attention on the road. And here's the amazing part: It worked. Back in the parking lot, I refrained from glancing at the phone, even though it was safe to do so, and decided to just wait until I was out of the vehicle entirely.

We know distracted driving is an issue because accidents and fatalities on the road have risen slightly in the last year or two. It's a problem because your brain goes into a strange blackout mode where all you see is the screen and nothing else--no pedestrians, no other cars, no roadside objects. In general, it's a good thing the brain does this, because it allows us to focus. But it's a bad thing when you are driving 70 miles-per-hour in heavy traffic.

For Android users, the feature has been available since last year at least. I recall using it with a Google Pixel phone that can connect via Android Auto to the car displays of several makes and models, including a nice sports sedan with a lot of horsepower. The feature also blocks messages and calls. There's no way to prove Apple noticed this feature and added it, but the Pixel essentially does the same thing--sensing the car is moving and blocking calls.

You can use a custom message on the iPhone to send back to people to let them know you are driving, and you can select whether all calls are blocked or just those not in your contacts or favorites. Anyone can use a trigger word ("urgent") to contact you even if you are in Do Not Disturb mode.

The best thing about this feature is that it works so well. After testing it a dozen times, the iPhone sensed I was driving every time. To be honest, it can be frustrating when you look at the phone when stopped and realize yet again that your phone is in safety mode. I don't use my phone in motion, but for those who are tempted, it would be helpful.

I could see this one feature seriously reducing distracted driving problems. It's one of the best deterrents I've seen, and I know the iPhone is incredibly popular. In fact, I'd love your help in getting the word out about the feature, so please let everyone know about it!

Published on: Sep 25, 2017