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How to use Do Not Disturb While Driving in iOS 11

Apple's long-awaited, much-needed safety feature has arrived. Here's how to make proper use of it.

do-not-disturb-while-driving-control-center-toggle

Toggling Do Not Disturb While Driving on and off is easy -- once you add it to Control Center.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Texting while driving is deadly. Everyone knows this, yet few drivers can resist the siren song of a newly arrived message. Too bad smartphones aren't smart enough to detect when you're driving and send automated replies on your behalf.

Google took steps in that direction last year, however, with an updated version of Android Auto. And with the arrival of iOS 11, Apple is making this vital safety feature available to iPhone owners as well.

It's called Do Not Disturb While Driving. True to its name, it's woven into the same Do Not Disturb (DND) settings that prevent calls and messages from bugging you at night and during meetings. Let's take a look at how to set up this potentially life-saving feature. 

Baby, you can drive my car (but you can't text)

First, you'll want to add DND While Driving to Control Center. Head to Settings > Control Center, then tap Customize Controls. Tap the green + sign next to Do Not Disturb While Driving. Now you can toggle the feature on and off just by swiping up to access Control Center. (It's represented by a little car icon.)

Now you need to decide when the feature should be activated, a setting that's accessible via Settings > Do Not Disturb (scroll down to the bottom of the screen). iOS 11 offers three options:

Automatically: The "smart" version of the feature detects when you're driving, then automatically blocks notifications and sends the selected Auto-Reply message. The only problem with this is if you're on, say, a bus or train, or you're a passenger in the car. You'll have to remember to disable DND While Driving so messages get through.

do-not-disturb-while-driving-auto-reply

The next time a contact texts you while you're driving, your iPhone will kick back this reply -- no action required on your part.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

While connected to Car Bluetooth: If your car stereo has Bluetooth, this is just about the ideal setup, as DND While Driving won't be affected by your motion; it'll only kick in when you're phone's tethered to your car. 

Manually: If the other two options are proving problematic for some reason, just toggle DND While Driving on and off as needed.

Auto-reply for your automobile

DND While Driving has two other settings you'll want to peruse. First, there's the Auto-Reply message that gets kicked back when someone tries to text you. By default, it's this: "I'm driving with Do Not Disturb While Driving turned on. I'll see your message when I get where I'm going." That's fine, but you have the option of changing it if you wish. 

(Bonus points for getting creative, like: "Hello, this is Rick's car. Rick can't come to the phone right now. Please don't leave a message, because he'll get the one you just sent when he gets where he's going. Thank you. Beeeeeep.")

Recipients of that message will get a second one: If it's urgent, they can reply with "urgent" to override the notification-block.

Finally, by tapping Auto Reply To, you can choose who gets these responses: no one, recent contacts, favorites or all contacts. (I find this a bit confusing; what happens if someone who's not in your address book sends a text?)

do-not-disturb-while-driving-activate

Something's missing, here: On my iPhone, the Automatically option didn't appear.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Compatibility issues?

On my iPhone 5S ($189.00 at OzMobiles), DND While Driving worked mostly as advertised -- with one exception: I don't have Automatically in my list of Activate options. 

On my iPhone 6S Plus, however, everything looked and functioned normally. It's possible older models have limitations when it comes to DND While Driving. (If you've encountered a similar issue, hit the comments and let me know what model iPhone you're using.)

I'm really glad to see this feature, and hope Apple will use it as a springboard for a full-on car mode.

Editors' note:  This article was originally published on June 29, 2017, and has been updated now that iOS 11 is in its final release.

iOS 11: All the new features, tips and guides.