A few months ago, I wrote about how autonomous vehicles (self-driving cars) would usher in countless new behaviors, such as enjoying a glass of wine during the ride home from work. 

Dave Nelsen

It turns out that most of us, 71% according to AT&T, are already doing the equivalent of drinking wine or harder liquor, not in autonomous vehicles, but while driving our own cars. I mean this from a safety perspective. I’m talking about interacting with our smartphones.

According to a source called “Quoted,” in 2015 there were 290,000 injuries due to drunk driving, but 391,000 injuries due to distracted driving. Not surprisingly, drunk driving accidents are most likely to occur between midnight and 3:00 a.m. Distracted driving accidents are most likely to occur between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. or between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Why is this not surprising?

It turns out that the folks at Apple (and at other companies, including AT&T) have been paying attention to this trend and they’re finally starting to address the problem. Why did it take more than 10 years given that the original iPhone arrived in June 2007? My theory is that the Apple engineers got distracted by their own iPhones.

Anyway, the newest version of the iPhone operating system, iOS11, includes a critically important new feature. I can pretty much guarantee that you’re going to hate it. So will your employees, your kids and your parents. But all of us really must embrace it. (Android people: Check out SafeDrive or similar apps).

This new feature in iOS11 is called “Do Not Disturb While Driving.” You can activate it in the “Do Not Disturb” section of “Settings.” You’ll want to set it to either “When Connected to Car Bluetooth” or “Automatically.”

DNDWD works almost exactly like the original, manually-activated “Do Not Disturb” feature except that it turns on and off by itself when you get in and out of your car. Your text messages and other notifications still come into your iPhone but they won’t trigger those distracting tones and pop-up notifications during your journey.

Smartly, when in DNDWD mode, your phone automatically responds to senders with a message indicating that you’re driving and that you’ll see their message when you arrive at your destination. Among other things, this is a clever way to spread awareness of this important new feature. Further, your phone will inform the sender that if the message is urgent, they can reply “urgent” to override DNDWD. To date, I’ve never had a sender attempt to do an override. Everybody seems to understand that avoiding distractions in the car is important.

In case you were wondering, you can override the feature yourself by clinking a button that says, “I’m Not Driving.” But I ask you, do you really want to start lying to Siri? That’s a slippery slope. Next thing you know, you’ll be lying to Alexa, lying to Cortana, and then maybe even  lying to your spouse.

Until I activated Do Not Disturb While Driving I had no idea how much I was interacting with my iPhone in a vehicle. I’m not talking about the obvious – texting while driving. I’m talking about more subtle activities like launching the Gas Buddy app to find a place to fill up my rental car before dropping it back at the airport. Or reporting on police locations using my Waze GPS app. Now that I think about, maybe that one’s a double-bad.

In a larger sense, distractions and interruptions are a far bigger problem. Have you seen the stat that says, “people who are interrupted take 50% longer to get something done?” It turns out that multitasking actually decreases productivity. Email notifications are slowing us down. So are CNN breaking news alerts, Facebook updates, Google Maps destination rating requests, TripAdvisor updates, Amber Alerts, Apple News updates and Waze alerts. This is a small sampling of recent alerts I can see right now on my iPhone. For some reason, this article is taking much longer to write than I expected.

Once you understand and accept that distractions and interruptions destroy productivity, I bet you’ll embark on the same quest that I did. I went into the “Notifications” options (under “Settings”) and turned off virtually all app sounds and most app pop-ups on my iPhone. It turns out that the world doesn’t end when you don’t read each new email as it arrives.

Even if you don’t choose as radical a path as I did, please consider activating DNDWD and spreading the word. And next time you have an important business meeting, have the attendees activate “Do Not Disturb” for the duration (or just have them turn off their phones; silent mode is cheating). Not only will people be fully present, but given our addiction to our smartphones, meetings will likely be substantially shorter. LOL. That’s a double-good.

By Dave Nelsen